YA Cozy Mystery
Date Published: 05/29/2022
Publisher: Purple Milk Publishing
Carly, Maddie, Pilot and Cornelious have been waiting forever for their Seniors Only Cruise. After three years of solving crime in their small town, this trip is the relaxing break from Asbury they need. Dreaming of all the fun and drama-free adventures in store for them, the gang settles in for a calm summer cruise.
Soon after departing, things don’t go quite as planned. With strange, new additions to their itinerary, Asbury’s favorite sleuths detect something is amiss. When violence breaks out, Cornelious turns to the captain who quickly reassures everyone aboard. After all, what reason would the crew have to mess with a group of teenagers? Adding to their troubles is Cornelious’ cousin Dane, whose feelings for Maddie have only grown stronger.
Excited to be away from his father and finally dating Maddie, Cornelious tries to ignore his cousin as his insecurities fester. After a stirring revelation from Dane, Cornelious retreats from his friends and finds solace in the ship’s jolly Captain Dex. At the same time, Carly, Maddie and Pilot begin to suspect the crew, believing there’s more than meets the eye with this cruise. Frustrated by Cornelious’ withdrawal, the gang doubles down on their efforts to discover the crew’s motives. Pulled into a dangerous game of who to trust, the gang is determined to find the truth—and mend their friendship.
With relationships called into question and stunning secrets exposed, the gang faces their biggest obstacle yet—trust. Can Cornelious trust the captain more than his friends? With their peers placing blind trust in the crew, can the gang convince them otherwise, before it’s too late? Or are Pilot, Carly and Maddie just overreacting? With constantly changing itineraries, a scheming crew lurking behind every door, a happy-go-lucky captain refusing to dig deeper, and lifelong relationships put to the test, can the gang rekindle their relationship with each other and figure out what’s really going on?
For all six hundred or so souls aboard the Judith Ann, the week seemed to crawl by. The downpour of rain and rustling winds causes rough seas, suspending all outdoor activities.
Almost cruelly, the much-needed and promised free time for the teens to lay by the pool, was also cancelled.
Many opted to look on the bright side.
At least the outdoor team building activities were also postponed. That is, until they were replaced with indoor cleanings and even more boring meetings.
As the week progressed, Cornelious spent more and more time away from his pals, and with Captain Dex instead.
Maddie believed that by giving Cornelious some space he could clear his mind and get a hold of himself. So, she busied herself with Pilot and Carly.
After learning of Carly and Alexis’ Morse Code feat, Pilot and Maddie stared at their blonde friend with renewed awe.
There certainly was more to Carly Cosentino than met the eye. The girl had more spunk than a cageless shark diver covered in chum!
Hearing of Alexis’ part in the endeavor did bring about some skepticism, but she was proud regardless. Seeing the relief on Pilot’s face when Carly explained that she hadn’t gone alone brought back the seriousness of the situation to Maddie’s mind.
Cornelious essentially became the captain’s shadow, and the trio spent any free time holed up in Pilot’s cabin. They planned their escape, but wondered what Maddie’s findings on the fifth floor could mean.
“Well, obviously the captain isn’t who he says he is,” Maddie decided. “Why else would I find a tattered captain’s uniform?”
Pilot considered this and nodded slowly. “That could be true…and the real captain could be somewhere on board still—”
“If he’s not dead,” Carly ominously stated. “What?” she asked, when both teens turned to her in surprised horror.
“Why would they have thrown him in lockup if they planned to kill him?” Maddie mused, more to herself than to her friends. “I mean, if they’re all imposters, and wanted to take over the ship and get rid of him, why not kill him and throw the body overboard? Why keep him in lockup?”
“Maybe they needed something from him?” Carly offered.
Maddie nodded and slowly paced around the room.
Pilot and Carly knew Maddie’s steady pacing was her way of working through her thoughts. Allowing her some much-needed silence, while also thinking over all the information they had gathered, the two sat tight on the edge of Pilot’s bed.
“So, there’s four options as far as I can see. Number 1, they killed the captain and took the ship. Number 2, they locked up the captain and took the ship and killed him. Number 3, they locked up the captain, took the ship and he’s still somewhere aboard. And Number 4, Captain Dex IS the real captain, but the crew forced him in lockup until he…I don’t know, learned his lesson or something.”
Pilot, making sure to type up everything as Maddie spoke, said, “It all sounds about right to me…but the question, of course, is why?”
“Seriously. Who wants to hijack a boat full of teenagers?” Carly wondered.
Wondering why anyone would deliberately take over a boatful of teens, the trio checked the clock and saw the bell was about to ring for dinner.
Sighing, Pilot carefully hid his computer.
Assured that everything important was locked up tight, he followed the girls into the dining hall. Once they got to the hall, Carly gave Pilot a quick kiss on the cheek and headed up to the long table on the stage at the front of the room.
As one of the three student leaders, Carly was assigned a seat at the table of honor, with the captain and crew. Adding to her discomfort, was that Oliver plopped himself to her right, and slid his chair as close to her as was physically possible.
More than once, she had to ask him to slide down since she couldn’t eat with him virtually on top of her.
Feeling eyes on her, Carly picked up her head and caught angered glances from the crew directed towards her…and, she thought, Alexis and Cornelious.
While they were quick to alter their expressions into smiles and waves (after she caught them), there was more than a little hostility aimed towards them.
Perhaps they envied The Big Three’s position of power…but, being honest, hadn’t she felt singled out from the crew, before being inducted into her new role?
At times, she felt she’d welcome the creepy warmth of Oliver, over the hatred pouring out from his fellow crew.
While Carly was attempting to shrug off her feelings of discomfort, Pilot and Maddie took their seats with Jason, the twins, Nya and Eric.
The latter two seemed to grow closer and closer as the cruise went on, making Maddie quite happy…
even when Maddie still caught Eric staring at her.
As Maddie and Pilot took their seats, a wave of automation seemed to flow through the hall. When Captain Dex rose, each Asbury High Senior thoughtlessly repeated their pledge before beginning their meal.
Jason forked his eggs and glanced up at the table of honor. “I love breakfast for dinner, but watching everyone acting like…like drones or something, makes me lose my appetite.”
Peetie smiled and placed her hand atop Jason’s, a move which made him blush. “I know…I get the sense some of our classmates are brainwashed.”
“Yes!” Maddie stated loudly. Drawing looks from the front, she put her head down and murmured, “That’s exactly what they’re doing.”
Her friends, pretending to eat, strained their ears to hear their clever friend.
“Think about it,” she continued. “We’ve been saying that daily mantra every day, for weeks now. And all that team building and testing…I bet they’re using the tests against us.”
“Like a personality test or something?” Jazz asked.
“Exactly. Maybe they reviewed our responses to see how to control us.”
“That’s kind of crazy…who would want to control a bunch of teens?” Nya pointed her fork at Maddie in question.
Pilot answered slowly, “I’ve asked myself that too…but some of you guys are the kids to filthy rich parents, remember?”
Jason nodded and Eric slowly smirked. Maddie drummed her fingers on the table in contemplation.
“That has to be it, Pi…”
“Wait, so you think they’re going to what? Kidnap and ransom us?” Eric gulped, his eyes betraying his fear that he tried to hide from his friends…and especially Maddie.
Maddie shook her head in disagreement. “I’m not sure. I mean, if they were going to do that, why go through all of the trouble of basically brainwashing us, as Jason accurately described.”
Peetie sighed, “This just doesn’t make sense. But at least we have each other.”
Jazz scoffed, “That’s about all we have. Look around, at least half of our class seems…happy. Your boyfriend sure does.”
Maddie jerked her head up to where Cornelious was laughing next to the captain.
To be honest, he looked like he was having the time of his life…and Alexis didn’t look to displeased to be sidled up close to him, she unhappily thought. But, as Carly explained, Alexis was thoroughly weirded out by the situation too.
Especially after the near scarring of their palms.
Still, Maddie felt a pang of jealousy as Alexis laid her hand on Cornelious’ arm—though for his part, he was obliviously turned in full conversation with some crew member.
“I know…he won’t listen to me, or even us. He refuses to believe Captain Dex is a fraud.”
Jason finished his cheesy eggs, and dunked his French Toast stick into syrup. “Well, I guess we just have to force his hand.”
“How?” Pilot asked.
“You know, if Captain Dex isn’t who he says he is, we have to show Cornelious his, um…true colors. I may not know much about crime and mysteries, or at least not as much as you four…but I do know that probably the only chance we have at figuring everything out—”
“And maybe even getting off this ship,” Nya interjected, voicing everyone’s secret fear.
“Yeah…well, the best chance we have is if you four are working together.”
Maddie exhaled, staring at Cornelious. She was doubtful that he would change his mind anytime soon.
“Maybe if we—”
“I have to admit, that was quite an enjoyable meal, huh?” Captain Dex’s thunderous voice boomed through the hall, instantly ending all conversation.
When most of the teens nodded, hooted, or clapped in approval, he continued his post-meal speech.
“It seems we do have a touch of bad news though,” eyes sliding to the crew member relegated to all laundering duties, he explained, “It seems that just this morning all the laundry machines inexplicably broke.”
The teens at Maddie’s table eyed each wearily. They sensed there was more to the story than was being revealed…and that this wasn’t the worst of the news.
Head cocked to the side, Dex held his open palms up and shrugged, the universal gesture of ‘what can I do?’
“Unfortunately, all of your clothes have been ruined…completely and utterly.”
Naturally, the more fashion-minded gasped at the appalling news, wondering how they could ever leave their cabins again.
Holding his hand up to ward off the imminent wave of uproar, Dex stated, “Instead of having you all re-wear the clothing you currently are wearing, we’ve decided to issue you all matching, standard clothes. These outfits consist of jean shorts and a tan colored tank—we believe that by having you all wear the same clothes for the remainder of the trip, you’ll feel less angry and upset. In fact, we’re hoping you’ll all feel as if you truly are a part of one big family.”
Not knowing what to say, and seeing as there was no way to argue, the teens fell back into their rooms only to discover a folded pair of jean shorts and a tan tank top folded crisply on the foot of each bed.
“Umm, Maddie…where are my shoes?”
Maddie plopped on her bed and shut her eyes, “Which ones?”
“Any of them?! All of them?!”
At the sound of hysteria in her friend’s voice, Maddie sprang up and did a quick scan of the room.
“Wait…where are my running shoes?”
Within seconds, it was clear that all their shoes, except the ones on their feet, had also been removed.
Maddie burst next door into Pilot and Cornelious’ room.
“You really should knock,” a shirtless Cornelious angrily stated.
Ignoring the increased pace of heartbeat at seeing Cornelious standing in only his shorts (something she reminded herself she had seen millions of times over the years), she crossed her arms.
Pilot poked his head out of the bathroom, “Yours too?”
Carly, fanning herself and breathing heavily sat on the edge of Pilot’s bed and moaned. “I can’t believe it…that was close to $2,500 worth of shoes! And they’re gone!”
Pilot quickly crossed the room and placed an arm over his hyperventilating girlfriend, trying to calm her down, “We’ll get them back, they’re not gone.”
“Yeah, we know who took them.”
“Here we go again,” Cornelious muttered, eyes rolling up to the ceiling and the heavens beyond.
“What? You know Dex ordered them to be removed—along with all of our clothes.”
“The laundry machines—”
Maddie crossed the room and angrily stood centimeters from him.
“PAH-LEASE. Do not tell me you believe his bologna!”
Cornelious appraised his friends and sighed. “If Dex did take them…I’m sure it was for good reason.”
“Why would he take Jimmy Choo limited edition sandal-wedges?!”
“I don’t know…maybe for unity?”
“Unity?” Maddie laughed.
“Yes unity! Can’t you see he’s trying to make us all equals! Think about it, we came onto this ship a divided class of seniors. Half of us rich and half not. I really think he’s just trying to teach all of us a lesson.”
“And what lesson did he teach by throwing Maddie in a cell and not feeding her?” Carly, annoyed at her friend and losing her wardrobe, finally exploded.
Waltzing over between him and Maddie, Carly angrily poked his chest, demanding, “And don’t say she deserved it—she was knocked unconscious! Your girlfriend! And you didn’t even care!”
“Of course, I cared! You think I slept at all while she was there?! Even though you clearly slept—and quite comfortably with my cousin, huh?” Cornelious ripped his eyes from Carly to Maddie, who refused to lower her gaze.
“Guys! Stop it! We can all clearly tell something fishy is going on…no sea puns intended…but instead of figuring it out we’re tearing each other apart,” Pilot pleaded with his friends, imploring them to stop acting like babies.
Especially when seriously shady matters were underway.
“We’re not the ones tearing each other apart, Pi. Neal is the one acting crazy,” Carly responded.
“Crazy? I’m sorry if finding out my cousin and girlfriend hooked up and dated, and who knows what they’re thinking when they’re alone on this ship—”
“Corne—” Maddie tried.
“No. I’m sorry. This cruise has been terrible for me, heart-breaking actually…and that the only one who seems to care enough to listen, actually listen, is yes, somewhat of a stranger. But Captain Dex has only ever given me solid advice…he even told me to reconcile with you three…but you probably wouldn’t believe that since you all think he’s a crazy criminal or something.”
“Neal, it’s jus—” Pilot interjected.
Shaking his head in fury, he threw on his tan tank top, and strode to the door. “You know he’s been the closest thing to a dad I’ve ever had. I refuse to believe he’s evil or got some hidden agenda against a bunch of teenagers.”
Slamming the door shut, Maddie knew she needed to find him before Dex did. Clearly, he was warping her best friend’s mind.
Even if Cornelious didn’t want to be her boyfriend, she would always consider him her best and closest friend.
“Cornelious!” She yelled, following him out of the room and into the lobby, with Carly and Pilot close on her heels.
“Just leave me alone Maddie,” Cornelious sounded exhausted as he faced her. “You guys need to just stop…I feel like none of you will listen and are just trying to control how I think or feel about others…like my dad.”
“Cornelious…we’re only trying to help you see—”
“Reason? Because I’m so dumb and easily manipulated, right?” his rising voice brought a scattering of students from their rooms, as well as the crew from the hall.
“No. That’s just what I mean…it’s the opposite.”
“So, I’m so smart but you don’t think I’m smart enough to trust my own instincts.”
Feeling like they were repeating themselves for the zillionth time, Maddie threw both hands on his shoulders and squeezed them.
“You are smart…and caring, and sweet. And if you can’t see that something weird is going on, it’s because someone is slyly keeping you from seeing it. Remember, Ms. Clarke—she fooled us all! She was a master manipulator.”
“So Dex is a master manipulator?”
Carly made a little squeal, alerting Carly and Cornelious that Dex was among the continually gathering crowd surrounding the two in the heart of the lobby.
Cornelious, eyeing the pleasantly smiling captain, peeled off Maddie’s hands. “You know, I think you’re the one manipulating me.”
“Wh…what? You’ve got to be kidd—”
“No. I’m serious. He’s never lied to me.”
“I’ve never lied to you either Cornelious Gibbz.”
“Right, technically you’ve never lied…just kept things from me, right?”
Maddie, fighting off both anger and sadness (two feelings which were becoming as close to her as her shadow), moved close so only Cornelious could hear her.
“I didn’t know how to tell you, okay? Yes, I made out with your cousin and went on a date—a single mediocre date—with him. But I’ve never felt anything for him or Eric.”
“Oh, well how lucky am I? You’ll make out with anyone, but only feel things for me, the town billionaire.”
Maddie stepped back, as if physically stung.
She had never heard Cornelious talk like this, and considered slapping him. But she knew that would be playing into his hand…or rather Dex’s.
Just what exactly did the two discuss on their walks?
Whatever it was, Maddie decided enough was enough. Staring right at him, she stepped in close and stole a kiss on the lips from him, catching him by complete surprise.
“Okay everyone, look around! We’re being brainwashed! You’re all acting crazy! This isn’t a real crew, they’re imposters! And there’s no way Captain Dex is who he says he is! They don’t even use the right boating terms all the time…and that laundry machine excuse—come on guys!”
“What are you doing?’ Cornelious whispered, lips tingling from Maddie’s kiss, and suddenly anxious over her reckless behavior.
“Standing up against the bad guys,” Maddie replied, and continued, staring out at the crowd.
“They’re not who they say they are! We need to get together and fight back! Look them up online or—”
Quick footsteps brought Captain Dex inches from Maddie, Cornelious smiled imagining how the captain would explain himself and make Maddie, and all his friends, look like fools for thinking otherwise.
“That’s enough girlie. We will not have disobedience.”
“What? Back to lockup?” Maddie inquired, forcefully eyeing the irate captain.
“Yes, but let’s make it after a quick lesson…or should I say an example?”
Captain Dex nodded to Donnie who swiftly lunged towards the teen, and yanked Maddie down to her knees by her shirt collar.
“I don’t think there will be any more outbursts around here, do you?” Captain Dex boomed.
“What are you doing…captain?” Cornelious asked suddenly afraid at the unexpected change in Dex.
Without thinking Cornelious slid to the left, blocking Donnie from leaving the hall with Maddie. There was no way he was going to let Maddie be taken from him, again. Even if he was angry and hurt.
“Part of a successful crew, family even, is to know where the limits are and what happens when they’re overstepped.”
Before Cornelious could ask further, Dex bent over and roughly slapped Maddie on both sides of her face, leaving burning red hand imprints.
“STOP!” Cornelious yelled, but was dragged from Maddie, Dex and Donnie, by three crew members.
Deciding the two slaps would be letting this impudent girl off easy, Dex administered three more jabs at Maddie: one landing on her jaw, one on her right eye and one below her solar plexus.
Straightening up, Dex ordered everyone to bed, as Maddie was dragged (yet again) to lockup.
About the Author
Growing up just over the bridge from Ocean City, NJ in Upper Township meant discovering plenty of fun places to both read, write, and run around outside like a maniac. For as long as she could remember, Kelly loved making up stories, and leaving her listeners/readers on the edge of their seats.
After graduating from Ocean City High School, Kelly accepted a basketball scholarship to Holy Family University, in Philadelphia. Upon graduating college, Kelly continued to live in Philly, teaching for four years, and meeting the love of her life during a snowstorm. In fact, it was her awesome husband who encouraged her to pursue her writing–Yay, Ryan!
Before writing page-turners however, she taught first, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade — like a dessert menu, she simply had to test them all out. But her favorite job is the one she’s now doing full time: writing.
As her first published work, the Asbury High series has been brewing since she was 18, and has something for every type of reader–go ahead take look for yourself! If you love mysteries, you’ve found your new favorite author. Kelly loves to craft whodunit mysteries, leading readers through various twists and turns filled with red-herrings, hidden clues, and more peculiar characters than a reality show. As an athlete, she hopes that the importance of teamwork and overcoming adversity, is also quite clear in her writing
Kelly lives in South Jersey with her handsome husband, energetic baby boys, two cookie-stealing dogs, and an awfully smart cat. If you want to know when Kelly’s next book will come out, please visit her website at http://www.kbchannick.com, where you can sign up to receive emails providing updates for new releases, or contact her directly, as well as win fun giveaways, and receive up to date news.