Sandcastle Beach (Matchmaker Bay #3) - Jenny Holiday

Chapter One

Moonflower Bay, Ontario, was known to the legions of tourists who descended on it every summer for lots of things. Spectacular Lake Huron sunsets. The Raspberry Festival. A so-cute-it-made-your-teeth-hurt wishing tradition that involved throwing flowers into the lake under the light of a full moon. Really good pie.

But to its citizens, it was arguably more (in)famous for its band of meddling old people. They had their hands in everything. The town council. The chamber of commerce. The love lives of their neighbors—they weren’t nicknamed “the matchmakers” for nothing.

So when they came bustling into the town’s theater company one August afternoon to inform its artistic director, Maya Mehta, that she had been elected queen of next weekend’s Mermaid Parade, Maya should not have been surprised. This happened every year, after all.

Usually she could manufacture some enthusiasm, but this year they were interrupting a long and painful accounting session in which she was trying to see a way forward through the forest of red ink she was lost in.

There was nothing like impending financial doom to put a damper on being crowned mermaid queen.

“Hi,” she said warily as Pearl, Art, Eiko, and Karl came strolling into her office off the theater’s lobby. She minimized QuickBooks on her computer like she’d been caught watching porn at work. As the old folks filed into the small space, she tried to casually gather up the papers scattered on her desk. It wasn’t as if the invoices themselves telegraphed I have no money to pay these! but still. You could never be too careful with this group of meddlers.

“What’s up?” she asked, as if she didn’t already know. Benjamin Lawson had struck again. You couldn’t even give him points for creativity. This was, what? The fourth year running she’d been elected mermaid queen thanks to his machinations?

“Congratulations!” Eiko trilled, waving a sparkly tiara.

“Ms. Maya Mehta,” Karl said with great solemnity, “As the executive committee of the Moonflower Bay town council, it is our pleasure to coronate you this year’s mermaid queen.”

“Wow. What a shock.”

“There actually was a little surge of support for another candidate this year,” Pearl said.

Really? “Who?”

“I can’t say,” Pearl said. “Election integrity demands confidentiality.”

“Of course it does.” Maya refrained from rolling her eyes, but only just.

Eiko shook the tiara at Maya. Maya sighed and bowed her head, and in so doing noticed that although she’d scooped up most of the paperwork on her desk, yesterday’s letter from the Canada Council for the Arts was still lying on the far edge. The one that said, “Dear Ms. Mehta, we regret to inform you…” The one that might as well have said, “Neener neener, no grant for you.”

After Eiko crowned her, Maya tried to subtly grab the letter, but it was just out of her reach. And Art was standing right next to it. Shoot. She needed a distraction.

“You know what?” she exclaimed, successfully drawing everyone’s attention. “I want the trident. Why does the king get the trident and the queen gets nothing of actual use? Like, he can raise the minions of the sea—or, I guess, the lake—with his mighty trident and she can do what? Wave and look pretty?”

That gave them pause. There was a literal pause, in fact, a long one, while they absorbed her complaint. Pearl rebounded first. “You know what? She makes a point.”

“She was the one who got us to expand the bachelor auction to include bachelorettes, and that was a huge success,” Eiko said.

“We’ll get you the trident,” Karl said.

Disarmed, Maya blinked rapidly. That was the thing about the old folks. You had to be careful when you were trying to stand up to them. Sometimes they would just agree with you, which would seem like a victory, but before you knew it, you’d find yourself the chairperson of the town bachelor/ette auction. Or they’d award you custody of the mer-king’s trident. “Who’s king this year?”

“Jordan Riley,” Pearl said.

“Really?” That was a new twist. “He doesn’t seem like the type.” Either the type to be interested or the type people would think to nominate. The auto mechanic was nice enough but a bit mysterious.

“His sister is trying to get him to be more social, so she encouraged people to vote for him,” Eiko said.

“So what you’re saying is there was election interference on both sides of the ballot this year. I don’t even know why you have me give the crown back every year. You should let me keep it.”

“We have to let democracy take its course,” Karl