Marji Laine

I Love a Good Mystery!

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Chapter Four – Opinions from Sib #6

Introducing Kimberly from Book 3 by Lill Kohler

Kimberly McConil plated the juicy pot roast on the gold-rimmed floral platter, pleased the carrots, onions, and potatoes slid into place without spilling over the edge. A deep whiff confirmed she had remembered to add all the seasonings. She poured the thickened broth into her grandmother’s gravy bowl.

Giggles from the upstairs loft area signaled that Phil managed to distract the twins from their video game Cars Mater-National Championship. She smiled and sighed. Ah, this is the life. But she was still on a time crunch.

One last review of the table reminded her she forgot the applesauce. Once she poured that into her newly acquired antique crystal etched bowl, she placed it next to the meat and vegetables at the center of the table.

“Phil, kids, dinner’s ready.” She grabbed the butter for the rolls and the serving utensils then called again.

The giggling grew in volume. “No, Daddy, not like that.”

“Hmm.” She made her way upstairs in time to see the three of them fixated on the TV screen.

“Excuse me.” She raised her voice enough to get over the squeals.

None of them turned or stopped.

Heat rose in her cheeks. Her meal would not taste good if it was cold. She walked in front of the screen.

“Mom.” The twins echoed.

She cleared her throat as she mentally counted to ten. “I called for you guys. Dinner is ready. And it’s getting cold.”

“Oh, honey. I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Phil cocked his head toward the twins.

She threw him her famous if-looks-could-kill stare. He smirked and then swirled his finger in a circular motion. “Come on, wrap it up. You heard your mom. Dinner’s ready.”

Five minutes later they were finally settled at the table. They joined hands and blessed their meal. Phil leaned over and gave her his traditional peck. And with that, she forgave his delay.

Lori had barely finished buttering her bread in the time it took her twin, Cory, to devour half of the large portions he served himself. “Slow down Cory. You’ll get ingestion.” Lori reprimanded her brother.

“Indigestion, sweetness.” Phil corrected. “How was school today kids?”

Cory immediately replayed the soccer game highlights and the almost fight in the cafeteria. He did manage to share some of the day’s history and science lessons.

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Lori began her stories as soon as Cory took a breath. She focused on what each of her friends wore to school and what they all ate for lunch. She took a few more bites. “Oh, I almost forgot. Aunt Connie called.”

“That’s who you were on the phone with?” Cory slammed his fork on the table. “Why didn’t you tell me? I want to talk to her too. She knows things.” His brows lifted, and his eyes twinkled.

Kimberly almost dropped her fork into her lap. A quick glance at Phil revealed he hadn’t missed her reaction. She painted on a perfectly composed expression. “Oh? When was that?”

“When you ran to the store after we got home.” Lori licked the applesauce off her spoon. “She is so cool. We talked a long time. She even helped me with my math homework.”

“How long were you gone, sweetheart?” Phil’s right eyebrow was cocked.

She waved it off. “Not long, but the store was more crowded than I expected.” She refocused on Lori. “So, did she say why she called?” Kimberly hadn’t left her youngest sibling a message or anything. Never mind that their relationship was more strained than most sisters experienced.

“Ah. No.” Lori tilted her head to the right. “She just said to tell you to call her.”

Great. “Well, thank you, sweetheart.” Kimberly gently placed her fork on her near-empty plate and then rubbed her hands on her pant legs.

Kimberly passed the rest of the meal in a fog. Her sister never called her about anything. Good or bad. They rarely spoke.

The twins asked to be excused to finish their homework and then dashed upstairs.

“I need to take a little walk.” She told Phil as she cleared the table. “Can you get the kids ready for bed tonight?”

“Sure.” He rose and pushed his chair in.

She stood on tiptoes and gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

He pulled out a towel and began to dry. “By the way, that yellow bowl you used tonight . . .”

Oh, he noticed. She wanted to jump for joy.

“It’s new, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” She smiled. “It’s an antique.”

“How much?”

Her stomach roiled. “Only fifty dollars.”

Phil stumbled back. “Ah, sweetheart. Did you get this at an authorized antique dealer?”

“Oh, my, no.” Her hair bounced on her cheeks as she shook her head. “It would have cost so much more. I found it at the arts and crafts mall. There’s a sweet old man who sells antiques from time to time. He said it was crystal.”

“Ah.” Phil covered his face with the towel and then looked at her again. “Honey, my grandma Josephine had one like that. Unfortunately, I accidentally broke it when I was twelve.”

Kimberly’s stomach flipped as she felt blood drain from her face.

“She bought it at the local five and dime store. It had St. Martin stamped on the bottom of it.”

“What are you saying?”

“Did you check the bottom for a stamped name?”

“Ah, no.”

Her throat tightened as she pulled the bowl out of the drying rack. Like a spotlight beam, the glaring words St. Martin stood out. “So, it’s not crystal?”

“It was a poor man’s crystal. They managed to make a thin glass that made purchasers feel wealthy.”

She felt light-headed. Her hands clung to the bowl with white knuckles to fight the destructive urge to throw it onto the floor and shatter it.

“Tell you what.” Phil took the bowl from her and placed it in their china cabinet. “It’ll be our little secret. But don’t brag on your find. Sound good?”

She bobbed her head, but she felt like an idiot. Just another poorly made financial decision. When would she ever learn?

His eyes roamed her face. “You all right?”

“Just need time to gather my thoughts before I call her.”


“Yes.” She shook her head. “I need to walk and pray.”

Kimberly stepped out onto their back deck and then down the incline past their pool. She was thankful for the small patch of woods that backed up to the neighborhood green belt. Walking among God’s creation helped her clear her mind.

If baby sister hadn’t called before, even those times when Mama and Dad told her that Connie might call, why now?

The last time she spoke with her parents, they were excited her sister was going to join them at the Wright Foundation. Kimberly had always wanted to be asked to come alongside them, but they never proposed that. Maybe Connie wasn’t going to join them. Maybe she needed advice on how to tell them.

Then again Connie never asked Kimberly for advice.

Maybe something was wrong with Mama and Dad. That would explain why she didn’t tell Lori anything.

Fear spurred her on as she did an about-face to traverse the manicured wood trail back to her home.

She found her husband in the exercise room. Kimberly sat on the edge of Phil’s workout bench as he wiped the sweat off his forehead. “Connie never calls me. I’m really starting to worry.”

“Tell you what. Let’s call her together. We’ll make it a conference call. I’ll see if I can read between the lines. See if she’s saying something without coming right out and speaking the words.”

“Yes. Let’s do that.” She nestled her head against his shoulder.

“Sounds good.” Phil gave the top of her head a peck then stood. “Do you think it’s too late to call now?”

“Should be alright. It’s not that late.” Her stomach fluttered.

Phil’s warm sweaty hand grabbed her shaky fingers as he led her to the house phone. “I’ll get on the extension in the bedroom.”

With a deep breath, Kimberly dialed the number of her sister’s fancy cellular phone.

Connie answered on the third ring. “Hey there.”

Sure didn’t sound like an emergency. “Lori told me that you called. Phil is on the line, with us.”

“Hi Connie.” His voice encouraged Kimberly.

She wasn’t in this alone. Whatever this was. “Are Mama and Dad okay?”

“They’re fine. Hold on a sec.” Kimberly heard the closing of a door through the phone. “Okay. I’m walking alone now.”

“Why don’t you want Mama and Dad to hear you?” Maybe there was something wrong, even with her sister’s light tone.

“I’m having trouble trusting their new accountant. Dad keeps putting me off, telling me that this other guy is doing exactly what Dad wants. But the man gives me vague answers like, ‘I’m looking into it.’”

“Why don’t you tell us your concerns.” Phil piped in.

After several minutes of Connie’s descriptions and replaying of conversations, the line went quiet.

“Well, I think he’s fine.” Kimberly’s mind stopped focusing on Connie’s concerns shortly after she started. She’d met the man, and as far as she was concerned, he passed her tests. “The man’s handsome and always dressed in the latest style. He looks you straight in the eyes when he speaks to you. Someone who’s lying to you, or deceiving you, wouldn’t do that.”

“I wish that were true, sweetheart.” Phil’s voice sounded calm, but the slight condemnation undertone increased her heart rate.

Her face warmed. “But he always seems to be upfront whenever I asked him questions. Seems like an open book type of person.” She rubbed her forehead. “You know someone you can trust.”

Phil gave something between a hum and a growl. “Connie, I believe your mom and dad did a background check when he first applied, or they wouldn’t have trusted him. That being said, I think you have legit reasons for a second independent check done on the man.” Phil’s words were totally opposite of what she told Connie.

She wanted to scream.

Connie spoke up before Kimberly could open her mouth. “Phil, thank you. I have an investigative reporter friend. I’ll see if she can do a little digging. Maybe call his previous employers to get a better idea about him.”

“But . . .” Kimberly still felt the man was innocent.

“Thank you both. I’m home now, so I’ve got to go. Love you guys.” She clicked off.

Heat burned in Kimberly’s face as she laid the receiver in the cradle. Once again, her opinion didn’t seem to weigh much in Connie’s eyes.

She heard Phil call her name from the top of the stairs. She turned on the water in the sink and splashed some on her face as his shoes clicked on the foyer’s tile floor.

He stopped in the kitchen entry. “I know you disagree with me, Kimberly.” Phil reached for her. “But if she feels in her gut something’s wrong then she needs to check it out.” He lifted her wet chin, so her face was in his line of vision. “If she’s wrong, then you’ll know you were right.”

Kimberly smiled and bounced her head. This man sure had a way of making the sun shine on a gloomy moment.

Thank you, God.

Watch for Episode 5 tomorrow!


Chapter Three – Advice from a Boomer

Introducing Fanny from Book 1 by Julie B Cosgrove

Fanny Lee Gillespie Henderson sat in the sunroom of her mansion sipping her second cup of coffee. Her housekeeper and cook, Izzy, brought the cordless phone to.

“Eets your niece Mees Connie,” Izzy whispered as she handed the call over. “She is the one who just graduated, sí?”

Fanny nodded. Then she punched the button and put the receiver to her ear. “Is that my favorite niece calling?”

“Hi, Aunt Fanny.”

“Congratulations, my dear. Graduated Cum Laude with honors. Not a small achievement. But I knew in my heart you would succeed, and I know you will, now, in your new position.”

“I got your amazing bouquet of star lilies. So kind of you to remember they are my favorite. I promise to write you a proper thank you note as soon as I settle in.”

Fanny chuckled. “I know you will, my dear. And I know it isn’t the horse you always wanted. Oh, how I recall the times you’d visit the family ranch here. You’d dash to the stables the moment the car stopped.”

“Snowball always seemed ready to greet me. I loved that horse.”

Fanny detected her niece’s voice crack with emotion. “He loved you as well.” Perhaps the stallion’s demise five years ago still stung. But horses were not meant to live forever.

“Aunt Fanny, I called to discuss the information you sent to Dad.”

Fanny took a sip of her coffee and set the cup down.  “I see. Do you foresee any problems?”

“No, it’s not that . . .well . . . I need your advice.” Connie seemed a bit distracted. Not like her at all.

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“Oh, what is it? You can always come to me, you know.”

“Which is why I called. Just a minute.”

Fanny heard a door softly close. “That’s better.” Connie’s voice lowered. “Have you heard about the new accountant, Clint Rutherford?”

“Your mother mentioned him in passing on the phone last week.”

Eleanor’s voice had sounded almost sing-songy.

“She seems to think he’s a Godsend.”

“I get the same feeling.”

And Fanny detected a flatness in Connie’s response. “From what your mom told me, he seems to be a gung-ho young man. Has a knack for numbers. And a steady churchgoer. That’s important. Why do you ask?”

She heard Connie suck in a deep breath. Had her sister’s intuition been flawed? Fanny had learned to rely on it in the past. Sort of a Holy Spirit teleprompter. It had yet to steer her wrong in all the years that Eleanor and MacKenzie ran the foundation, which is why Fanny always agreed to help them find outlets for their funding.

“There is something about him. I don’t know. His smile didn’t seem genuine. It never reached his eyes. And they, well . . . dart about, as if he schemed what to say next. Like plotting the next move in a chess match.”


“It isn’t tangible, just something I sensed. He seems to have taken on quite a lot of authority very quickly, though.”

“Have you had much contact with him?”

Connie sighed, making a roar through the receiver. “I know that tone. Judge not lest ye be judged. Not only Jesus’s warning in the Bible but your motto for life. Mine, too.”

A pause lasted so long Fanny wondered if there had been an interruption in the connection. Then Connie’s voice returned. “Frankly, we just met.”

“Aw, well then perhaps you need to wait before you decide about his motives. Your parents talk well of him. And he is only a few years older than you. Maybe you sense your mother playing cupid and are a bit defensive?”

“Perhaps. I must admit Mama’s facial expression when she mentioned him sent prickles up my arm, like the times she suddenly announced a visitor to dinner who happened to be close in age when I came home from college for a visit.”

Fanny laughed. “She can’t help being a mother, dear.”

“True. And you may have a point. Still . . .”

“Tell me about your conversation, Connie. I sense this has stuck in your craw.”

She did.  Fanny remained quiet as she spoke. Being a successful businesswoman herself, she had long ago learned that good listening skills were key to an acute insight into people. If Connie’s initial impression was off, Fanny would detect it.

When Connie finished, Fanny took another long sip of her now tepid coffee. She peered out the floor-to-ceiling windows at the garden. If only all people could be pruned like flowers and bushes to grow right. Oh, well. Her niece had been well-groomed for this position. She needed to consider her intuition as valid. However, like her new dahlia shrubs, Connie was still growing and might need some bolstering to blossom in the right direction.

“Sounds as if perhaps the young man may be a tad over-enthusiastic. As you may be as well, my child. If anyone can rein him in, it is your father.”

“I suppose.”

“I would suggest you keep an open mind over the next few weeks . . .”

Connie’s scoff came through the line.

“You don’t sound convinced.”

“It is just a gut instinct, I guess. But you are absolutely correct. I shouldn’t jump the gun.”

Fanny applied a serious tone to her voice as she leaned forward in her armchair. “Look, Connie. You are a smart young woman. You have your father’s knack for business and your mother’s heart for charities. I think God put you on earth when He did for a reason. You, above all your other siblings, have the talent and skill to carry on this foundation. Your parents are not getting younger you know. Someday it will all land in your lap, not just the fundraising part.”

Silence. Had Fanny been too harsh? In her sixties, she could see the end of the line more clearly. Connie? At twenty-three, the world remained her oyster.

She tried again. “You have always had a good head on your shoulders, and if you sense something is amiss about this young man, perhaps you should discuss it with others that you can trust. Your siblings have all been involved in the foundation at one time or other. I think you should speak to them about it. If Clint is pulling any wool over your parents’ eyes, your brothers and sisters should be made aware of it as well.”

Connie let off what sounded like a nervous giggle. “I feel vindicated and taken to the woodshed all at the same time. You do make sense. I trust your insight, Aunt Fanny. Perhaps I need more evidence to validate my initial reaction.”

“That’s my girl.”

“Thank you for your wisdom and your confidence in me. I appreciate your advice.”

“Then accept one more, my dear. Don’t let his nervousness or your own cloud your judgment. You are both getting your feet wet, as they say. However, you always were good at discerning people’s motives. Make sure you’re praying for God’s leading. Then, if your gut, or shall we say the Holy Spirit, continues to send off warning signals, heed them.”

 “I will.” Her voice lilted with warmth. “And again, thank you for the flowers. They are lovely.”

“Goodbye my dear. You are in my prayers, but I know you will do just fine. Give your parents my love, and I look forward to hearing more about your plans for the pregnancy center fundraiser.”

Fanny hung up and tapped the phone to her chin. When she’d been talking with Eleanor the other day, she’d heard a man’s voice in the background. Had that been this new man? He’d spoken to Anna Hodges in a rather authoritative tone. Not a respectful one that a long-term volunteer like Anna, who knew the ropes, should command.

Well, he was young as well. If it was him at all. Youth tended to be impulsive. If Clint Rutherford had any ulterior aspirations Connie would get to the bottom of things. Yes, she would.


Aunt Fanny’s advice stirred Connie.

As hurt as she was that most of her siblings had ignored her college graduation—high school graduation too, for that matter—she really did need to reach out to them. Family had always been so important to her, probably because, being so much younger, she’d been a little unincluded by most of them. Even Paul had the childhood memories of a full house, family trips in a full van, and holidays around a full table that she never had.

For the most part, she got along with her siblings, but maybe she should reach out first to the ones she didn’t relate to as well, in order to get a more objective spin.

She needed to pray about it, but either Margaret or Kimberly needed to be her first call. Come to think of it, Margaret wouldn’t likely speak to her at all. Connie had only seen her oldest sister a handful of times as she was growing up. The woman didn’t seem the least bit interested in Connie.

Kimberly it would be, then.

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Chapter Two – Impressions from the Golden Boy

The front door chimed and from Mrs. Hodges greeting, Connie wouldn’t have to wait for very long to finally meet the fair-haired child. She stacked Mama’s day planner and a few other journals on a side table and pulled her laptop from her backpack.

“Miss Wright, I presume.”

Connie looked up into a beaming face. “You must be Mr. Rutherford.” He didn’t look all that golden. Didn’t have a sparkle in his teeth or a shine to his blond hair, though he was on the handsome side with a clean-shaven, angular chin and piercing blue eyes.

“Call me Clint, please.” He came around the desk. “I have so been looking forward to meeting you.” He opened his arms wide and took a step closer.

A moment of indecision passed, but then Connie reached for his hand and pumped it several times hoping to match his cheerleader-like exuberance. “It’s odd that we haven’t met before now. But I hope you’re feeling at home here.” He hadn’t been involved with the foundation that long, but with the busyness of her last year in school, she’d hardly visited at all.

He placed his hand over her own. “I sincerely feel as if I’ve found something of a home here at the Wright Foundation.” His eyes got a little misty.

Well, he was nothing if not sincere. And it was nice of him to give them such a discounted rate to his work. Connie gave him a slight smile. “I understand that you’re able to lend us a few hours per week?”

“Yes, yes.” He released her hand. “I’ve done freelance work for a number of 501C3s. Though I still have a full-time position at ***. Must keep my nose to the grindstone as it were.” He furrowed his eyebrows and shook his head like some type of cartoon character. “But this is where I want to be. If I had my choice, I would work here full time.”

“Ah.” Connie merely smiled. “Well, I’m sure Mama and Dad are both delighted to have you here. I’m certainly glad that I don’t have to be the one to balance all the accounts.” Thankfully, Diana Carson had a financial background and hadn’t minded adding a little light bookkeeping to her volunteer hours.

Did she still do that or had Clint taken over the finances entirely? Oh . . . financials . . .  She slipped past her chair to her backpack and pulled out the reimbursement form that she’d tucked in there. “I guess you should have this, then. It’s for the storage unit for my furniture.” She hated giving up her sweet little apartment, but the foundation only covered living expenses at the brownstone where her parents had lived all their married lives. Her suite on one side of the unit proved large enough for Connie to still feel like she lived on her own. Without the hassle of cooking or dishes.

Back to the business at hand. She held out the invoice. “If you’ll send the direct payment to my account, I’d appreciate it. It took years to get Dad to stop using checks. I don’t want him to go back to doing it that way.” She chuckled, and Clint joined her, taking the paper from her.

He glanced at it. “We’re actually doing reimbursements a little differently. I’ll have to make sure this purchase falls into accord with the new program.”

“A new program?” Sort of changing rules mid-game. “With no notice.”

He shrugged. “Your father asked me to do whatever necessary to keep the foundation working. This is part of my number one goal. But don’t worry. I’m sure something can be done for you if the charges don’t clear.” He squeezed his lips together for a moment and turned the sides up in a slim smile. “I’m not here to make waves.”

Connie attempted to duplicate his puckered gesture, but more than likely she only wrinkled her nose in his direction.

For someone not wanting to make waves, he sure did seem to be stirring the waters. “Well, it was wonderful to finally meet you.” She nodded and moved back to her desk, pulling out her computer cords. “And I’m sure we’ll be talking soon. I’m working out the details to support a pregnancy center. As soon as I unearth the files, I’ll send them to you.”

His smile faltered a bit. “Of course. I’d be happy to look into it.” He gave her a nod. “I’ll let you get back to it then.”

She frowned at the doorway that he’d just vacated. He’d look into it? What did he mean by that? She only needed Dad’s approval, and since Aunt Fanny sent her the information about this program, he’d certainly go for it.

Unless this Clint Rutherford held more sway over her parents than she knew.


Between moving all of her worldly belongings either into storage or back to the brownstone where her family had lived all of her life and jumping flat out into the middle of three fiendishly clever events that her mom had been planning, Connie barely saw her parents for the next few of days. But she caught her dad just before bed one evening in the family room. “Any more news from that detective?”

He gave her a side long look over the edge of his newspaper. “Are we borrowing trouble?”

“Just a simple question. I haven’t heard anything. I thought maybe you had.” She adjusted her denim shorts and drew her feet into the comfy chair seat with her, resting her chin on her knees.

He turned the page of his newspaper. “There was a small article about the death.”


He glanced at her again, moving nothing but his eyes. “They aren’t calling it murder. Suspicious death at the very most.” Again he gave the financial section his attention. “They’ve given us access to our warehouse again.”

Connie hadn’t even been aware of that much. “Do they know who the man was?”

“Some poor vagrant trying to make a home on the docks, likely.” He gave a slight shrug. “There’s nothing you can do for him now, my dear.”

True. As much as she’d loved reading the mysteries of the titian-haired detective when she was growing up, she didn’t have the observation skills to solve any crime like Nancy Drew. Especially not something as critical as murder. Um, make that a suspicious death.

She leaned against the arm of the wingback and focused on her dad’s face as he sat in the recliner. “So, what about the pregnancy center? The project is really important to Aunt Fanny.”

“Yes, yes. But Aunt Fanny has important projects come up all the time.”

Not like this one, but Connie wouldn’t interrupt his thoughts.

“I’ve left this in Clint’s hands. He’ll do whatever’s right.”

Clint’s hands? “Daddy, you hardly know him. Are you really willing to give the man that much authority?” She straightened. “He’s the one making the foundation decisions now?”

“There’s more to it than that, Sweetheart.” He closed his newspaper as he rose from his chair. “I’ll consider the matter.” He folded the paper and tucked it under his arm. “That’s the best I can tell you right now.”

Dad’s best tied a knot in Connie’s stomach that wouldn’t go away. Perhaps a call to Aunt Fanny was in order tomorrow morning?

Stay Tuned for Chapter Three tomorrow!

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Chapter One – Wariness from the Warehouse

Chicago, 2008

“What’s going on out there?” Connie Beatrice Wright set her computer case on the chair near her father’s desk.

He rounded the desk and gave her a brief kiss on her temple. “They finally sold that tire graveyard next door. Summer isn’t ever going to smell the same, thank the Lord.”

“But the police?” What would they want with a tire dump?

His chin sagged as he moved back to his desk. “Are they still there?”

“Like ants.”

“As best I’ve learned, they uncovered something when the bulldozer started clearing out that huge pile of tires behind our warehouse.” He sat in his chair and propped his elbows on his desk. “Had a coroner car over there a bit ago.”

A coroner car? “Someone was dead?”

“I know that look, Connie. This is not a lark or a game.”

She ran her finger over the marble nameplate on the edge of his desk that read MacKenzie Wright. “A death is not a game, Daddy.” She knew what he was thinking by the grim set of his mouth. “I’m not doing a Nancy Drew thing.”

“It has nothing to do with us.”

Someone tapped at Dad’s almost-closed door. “Mr. Wright?” The warbly voice belonged to Mrs. Hodges, the long-time volunteer who worked as their receptionist most weekdays. “A policeman here to see you.” She nudged the door open a little wider.

“Come in, Officer.” Dad got up and met the man at the door.

But he wasn’t a simple police officer. That was clear. He wore a sport coat and khaki pants instead of a uniform.

“Detective Rainey, Mr. Wright.” The man opened a wallet with a card and shield inside. “You own this property and the warehouse behind it?”

“The foundation owns it. The warehouse is used to store the supplies we donate to the local shelters in the area.”

Dad had left out the many shelves that housed their various displays, decorations, and activities that they used to put on all of the fundraising events. Those shelves were cloaked with her mother’s dreams, brainstorming, and sheer imagination.

But that wouldn’t interest Detective Rainey.

“I’m afraid we’ll need to limit access to your warehouse until further notice.”

“Why in the world—” Connie took one look at her dad’s stern face and halted her comment.

“I understand, Detective.” Her dad reached out his hand. “We’ll certainly be praying that you can quickly figure out what happened to whoever you found.”

The man shook Dad’s hand. “As to that, have you heard of any strangers lurking around here? A man, maybe a few months ago?”

The man had been dead that long? Not that they would have noticed with the strong stink that already filled that side of the property from the tires. Connie’s left eyebrow arched on its own before she caught herself and forced it even with the other.

“Not that I remember, but I’ll ask around. Especially to the volunteers who help us in the warehouse.”

The detective nodded and left without even glancing at Connie.

“Has anyone been lurking?” She leaned over with her hands flat on the desk when Dad took his seat again.

“You heard me tell the detective that I hadn’t seen anyone.”

“Uh-huh.” Her father wouldn’t lie about a thing like that, or about anything else for that matter, but Connie could smell a mystery in the making – or already made as the case may be.

“I think you should forget about all of that and go on to Mama’s office. Your office.” He gave a sad sort of smile, then stood and took one of her hands. “Your very first day as an employee of the Wright Foundation. We are so glad you agreed to come on board so quickly after finishing your business degree. Your mother’s arthritis is advancing to the point that it is very difficult for her to type, or write, or even craft the decorations. I know handing the reins to you will relieve her mind a great deal.”

Connie chuckled. “Well, after all, it is what I was raised to do, and I will love every minute!” She kissed Dad’s cheek and then Mama stepped down the hall toward the reception center.

“Well, a proper good morning to you, Miss Connie, and congratulations on your graduation.” Though trim, almost petite, Anna Hodges’s vibrant smile and confident carriage made a formative statement. It was why she was chosen to be the first face and voice that prospective donors encountered. Wearing her signature red blouse and purple scarf, she set down her skinny latte and reached out as Connie crossed the main lobby.

“Thank you, Mrs. Hodges.” She gave the frail woman a side-arm hug, then helped herself to a cup of coffee. “Have you seen my mom around?”

“In her office, my dear.” She snapped her fingers and pointed up with a tilt of her head. “I mean your office.” She gave Connie a wink.

“You have a blessed day, now.” Mrs. Hodges waved to her as she turned to greet an entering volunteer. The woman glowed pure joy.

Connie had always wanted to be just like her. She straightened the gray jacket over her short navy dress and slipped back down the executive hallway until she came into what had always been her mom’s office. The name plaque on the door still read Eleanor Wright.

“Well, there you are, sweetie.” Mama’s lively voice cracked a bit. “I was afraid you got lost.”

Connie smiled and shrugged. “Redirected by the police out there.”

“I heard about that from Mrs. Hodges. Seems they found a body.” Mama tsked and put a lid on top of a box. She eyed Connie. “Did you talk to your father?”

Connie stiffened and met her mom’s stare. “About?” Had they changed their minds about letting Connie take her mom’s place with the fundraising? “You’re not having second thoughts?”

Mama shrugged. “I am, but then it doesn’t matter really.” She held up her crooked fingers. “I can’t even tie shoelaces anymore. How am I supposed to decorate for banquets?” She flattened her mouth as tears filled her eyes.

“Mama, you know your own limitations, but that doesn’t keep you from the brainstorming that you’ve always done to set up perfect events. You have a gift for matching the exact activity to the charity and the donors who will be the most interested in supporting it.” It was uncanny.

Mama glanced to the carpet.

“Just because you can’t hang drapery or organize all the details anymore doesn’t mean you can’t contribute, and in a big way.” And Connie was counting on Mama’s input.

Mama laid a blue-veined hand on Connie’s. “Thank you, sweetie. That’s more credit than some of your siblings would give me.” She reopened the box and added a photo of their large family to it.

Connie didn’t want to think about family right now. Of her seven siblings, only Paul and his wife Maggie, with their toddler Teagan, had attended her graduation on Saturday. Of course, Paul lived the closest and was the nearest in age to her. Though, since she had been an oops baby, ten years separated their births.

“I did talk to Dad, but not about anything in particular.”

Her mom paused for a moment. “All right then.”

“Shall I help you pack up your books?” She eyed the tall shelves filled with Mama’s Bible studies, cookbooks, decorating manuals, and photo albums. Lots of photo albums full of every fundraising event the Wright Foundation had ever sponsored.

“Oh, no. I think you’ll need all of those more than I will. I’m only moving over the bare minimum.”

Hmm. Connie had hoped to move some of her own things in, but it looked like the office would still be Mama’s even if the person behind the desk had changed.

Mama toted the small box to the open door and called out over her shoulder, “Oh, and Clint should be here soon.” She poked her head back around the corner with a cryptic smile. “Make sure you meet him.” She gave Connie a nod.

Connie painted on a benign smile. “Okay.”

Clint Rutherford. The golden boy by all accounts if Mama and Dad were to be believed. He’d only been around for a couple of months, yet they hung on the man’s every word.

We hope you enjoyed the first installment of


Come back tomorrow to catch the second part, and be sure to join my newsletter in order to get the entire story later this month!

Here’s the direct link to join my newsletter.

And don’t miss book one of The Visitor Mystery Series, THE VISITOR MAKES A RETREAT

launching on February 10!

You’re going to LOVE this series!

In Pieces

I ordered some eggs over easy and toast and then heard the ding on my phone as the waitress left our table.

“Do you need to get that?” my friend asked me.

I hated interrupting the way-too-infrequent times I get to see my friend, but sometimes my mom’s caregivers will text instead of call when she’s having a problem. “Just a sec.”

I opened the text and found the picture of a headless doll. The next image was of the missing head. And it wasn’t exactly a doll. More of a nutcracker. You know the type: dressed in a soldier uniform with a big head that allows for the nuts to fit in between his wide-opening mouth. This one had a tiny sword in one hand and a tall hat like a palace guard.

“Check this out.” I handed my phone over to my friend.

“Is this some sort of threat or just some weird coordination between mystery writers?”

I snorted. “Probably more of the latter than the first. It’s from April Hayman, one of the authors of the Ever After series.”

“Do y’all exchange pictures of broken dolls often?” She handed the phone back to me. “And should I ask for the check now?”

“No.” I laughed. “Apparently, the nutcracker from Chautona Havig’s new book, The Nutcracker Suite, has lost his head somehow.”

“Probably over some Raggedy Ann doll.”

“Cute.” I looked up at the ceiling. “April thought I might know who broke it.”

“Do you?” Her eyebrow arched and she leaned over her elbows on the table.

“I could probably make a pretty good guess. I mean, if it has to do with a nutcracker, then there are likely some mice involved.” Though I really didn’t think Chautona would have mice in her house.

“Maybe the mouse king shoved him off a high shelf?” my friend suggested. “Like yours. Don’t you have a nutcracker on that high shelf in your living room?”

“Yeah, but it’s not a soldier. Mama brought it back from Germany, though it looks more like a Leprechaun.”

My friend took a sip of her coffee. “So, if Chautona doesn’t have mice that could have broken the nutcracker, who broke it?”

“Well…” I thought of some of the sundry characters who fill my own books, but there would be no reason for them to hop into Chautona’s book to create havoc. “While Chautona doesn’t have mice, she does have a passel of kids.”

“I seem to remember somewhere that a couple of kids fought over a nutcracker and broke it. Do you suppose that’s what happened?”

I remembered that story. “I think at least one of those kids was pretty bratty. Chautona’s kids aren’t like that.”

“But it could have still happened that way, maybe they were playing with it?” My friend was certainly getting into the spirit of the mystery. “Or it could have fallen when Chautona was cleaning.”

I couldn’t answer for Chautona, but the poor guy on my high shelf likely had an inch of dust on his little green cap, not that anyone would be tall enough to see it. Which was exactly why I didn’t worry over keeping him dusted. “Either way, I certainly think she’s the one we should ask next about all of this.”

I typed in a short message and attached the pictures to the text. She had some explaining to do.

This little mystery celebrates the release of The Nutcracker Suite, the newest book in the Ever After series by Celebrate Lit. Chautona Havig offers this take on the famous Christmas story:

“Time to dance, sugarplum.”

A painter at the Meyer’s Toys factory, Clarice Stahl, knows something is strange about the way so many men come and go through Mr. Meyer’s office, especially one in particular.

Then murder strikes a little too close to home and uncorks a barrel of secrets.

When mob king, Mario Topo’s, enforcer goes missing the race is on to prove he’s behind the murder. Police and mobsters alike are after Milo Natale, and he who finds Milo first might determine the enforcer’s fate.

A race through the city, a new friend… or more… a new life in the offing. Milo and Clarice must find who killed Topo’s man and why before the police arrest him for murder or Topo’s men bump him and Clarice off,

This next book in the Ever After Mysteries combines “The Nutcracker Suite” with a murder mystery set in the heart of 1920s Rockland.

Order your copy HERE.

And don’t forget to enter at the link below for an Amazon gift card giveaway.


Can You Dig It?

This trip was becoming more and more disorienting. How could they ever get to Chicago, let alone the Empire Theater? They didn’t even seem to be in the 1920s anymore.

This time when the train stopped, Freida Tilley was the first off. Her brother Hans had about smothered her with his protection, hardly even letting her see anything at the last stop. She clutched her beaded necklace in her right hand and scampered toward an empty building. Where were the people waiting for the train?

“Freida, wait.” Hans had caught up with her.

Eleanor followed him down the steps. “Where are we?”

Frieda halted on the other side of the empty train station, staring out at an endless expanse of ocean. “Well, we aren’t in Chicago.” She stepped off the platform and into sand. The gold sequins and fringe of her costume shown in the bright sunlight and she reached down and slipped off her shoes. Holding them in one hand and securing the beaded headband that held her short blond bob in place, she scanned the area around her as the others joined her on the sand.

“Dis is baloney, dis is.” Ivan Moss, already in his clown costume and make up came up beside her, though he stood almost a foot shorter. “And lookie that.” He pointed to a lot full of… were those cars? Bright colors and most of them without lids.

Back toward the ocean, a large group of people were gathering near a little stage. “Let’s find out where we are.” Eleanor passed her, trotting off toward the group.

Frieda ignored another protective call from Hans and followed Eleanor. This place was strange. If nothing else, the costumes were… well, she thought her costume was a little on the racy side. It didn’t touch what the women around her were wearing, or rather not wearing. Little bitty… unmentionables? Is that what they wore?

A man bumped into her. “Whoa there, Chickie.” A very muscular, very shirtless man, and his britches were rather small as well.

She averted her eyes, but the man turned back to her gave her a strange look, his gaze traveling from her face to the hose rolled down past her knees and back again. She was used to men looking at her, but not with such open bewilderment.

He cocked his head to the side. “Hey, sweet cheeks, you look a little bummed out. You here with the band?”

She recognized the word band, but it didn’t register. “Uh . . .”

Eleanor stepped alongside her. “What did he say?”

Frieda had no idea, but the man pointed up at the stage. A group of men with shaggy, sun-bleached hair made their way onto it, some of them carrying various guitars. One sat behind a Jazz-er-up drum system, and all of them were barefooted and almost as unclothed as the rest of the people on the beach. Though they did have the sense to wear short jackets over their bare chests.

“Let’s get a groove on,” one of the men near her called up to the stage.

The men strummed their guitars and started singing. Not like the crooners she was used to, and even though they had harmonies, they weren’t at all like the barbershop that her old man had sung in. She hadn’t expected such loud drumming or the fast-paced, rollicking music. The men sang about things she didn’t understand, but she caught the words hamburger, library, and radio. What that all had to do with some bird that got taken away, she had no idea.

A woman next to her shouted at them. “I can dig it.”

In this sand, it wouldn’t be that hard, but Frieda had no intention of joining her in that effort.

The people around her started jumping around, bobbing, and jiggling. She caught Eleanor’s eye and they traded smiles. Nobody jiggled or shook as well as the two of them did in their fringed gowns. Grabbing her friend’s hand, she jumped up onto the stage and began matching the odd dance that the people around them were doing. Not like the Charleston in that it didn’t seem to have any regular steps, but she recognized the hip action. And she shook her fringe for all it was worth.

“That’s a gas,” the guitar player next to her called out.

“It’s a gas, gas, gas,” replied the other one.

Frieda didn’t have time to try to muddle through their need for petroleum. Hans and a few of the others had reached them on the stage. Her brother took her hand. “We’re already behind the eight-ball. We have to get back on the train.”

The moment of uninhibited freedom had passed. Frieda glanced back at the man who had bumped into her. He lifted two fingers spread out. She copied the symbol back in his direction.

Is that where they were, someplace called, Two?

* * *

The troubles with the Ever After mysteries continue! This time it’s Cathe Swanson’s Murder At The Empire. Here’s a little about the book:

Gayle Wells is a killer organist, but does a killer have her in his sights?

They call him the Emperor.  John Starek fills his theater with fine artwork and treasures. He’s particularly pleased to have one of the country’s first female organists – and he thinks Gayle Wells is the bee’s knees.

Despite pressure from her social crusader mother, Gayle isn’t interested in changing the world. She just wants a car of her own – and a career playing the organ at the Empire movie palace would be especially ducky.

Then the Empire’s treasures start disappearing and employees start dying. Are a few pieces of art really enough motive for the string of murders? Will Gayle be next?

Murder at the Empire brings the Nightingale into an elegant movie palace in the roaring 20’s – but the real excitement is all off-screen.

You can get your copy here!

Lost in Time!

Can the before-show acts get to the Empire on time to perform? Follow along this week and find out which decade they are found. And play along for your chance to win a giveaway.

Note: Some links in this post are affiliate links that provide me with a small commission at no extra cost to you.


Where, or maybe the better question is… WHEN, did Freida and the others land? Enter for my giveaway



I was minding my own business, heading for Michael’s because the fall decorations are calling, even though it’s scorching outside. Well there’s a private airfield right across the street from the craft store, and as I got close to it, this cool plane landed. This thing looked to be 100 years old, and I couldn’t help but think about April Hayman’s hero.

He’s missing, you know. No, really. Somehow he slipped from the pages of her book and took off to parts unknown. Cathe Swanson spotted him yesterday.

So when this super-old plane landed, well, I needed a better look. I zigzagged and did a U-turn, pulling in to park in front of Bread-Zeppelin beside the private field and the neighborhood that borders it. I watched the old plane taxi closer, stopping at the hangar that was on the edge of the field.

The pilot climbed out as I shut off my car engine. Well, I knew that little guy wasn’t April’s hero, but then the passenger climbed down. The guy was a giant, like a big ole bear. He took off the leather helmet that he’d been wearing. His hair was plumb platinum. This was definitely the guy April had told us about.

I got out of my car. “Hey,” I yelled and waved both my hands over my head to get his attention.

He halted just before he reached the hangar and turned toward me, putting his hand on the pilot’s shoulder.

I wave again. “Can I ask you a question?”

He grabbed the pilot’s jacket and pointed back toward the plane. The little guy took off at run.

Oh, no. I was about to miss my chance to . . . what? Catch him? He was a Goliath for pity’s sake. But I had to try. “Hang on, hang on. Aren’t you Hugh?”

He seemed to freeze for a moment. The propellers on the plane started spinning.

I pulled out my phone and took a photo.

He glanced at the plane and then back at me.

“April is looking for you,” I called.

The man took a deep breath and then dashed back to the airplane.

“No, wait.”

“Tell her not to worry.” He climbed into passenger seat and the plane taxied down the runway.

No chance to track him down now. But at least with my photo, I could prove that he’d been here. I pulled up the image on my phone.

Grr. Clearly, I’d moved when I clicked it. Or un-clearly in this case.

Sorry, April. I tried to slow him down. Hope you’ll be hearing from him again soon!

Here’s some information about April’s book, When a Pilot Falls:

In 1923, there aren’t many pilots, but Willie Labeau didn’t let that stop… her.

A bear of a man, Hugh Taylor, needs a stunt plane pilot, and despite their rocky introduction, Willie sets off for golden California and a new life as his pilot. There’s just one little thing she has to do in addition to flying.

Leave his past alone. Period.

When the flame of her own curiosity becomes fanned by encouragement from Willie’s sister, the feisty pilot can’t help but do just a little investigating.

And Hugh vanishes.

Friends rally around her, and with all the information she can find in hand, Willie sets off to rescue Hugh and battle the evil family holding him hostage.

A fierce air race, a sincere act of humility—are they enough to free Hugh and give Willie a chance to be with him… forever?

Find out in this next book in the Ever After Mysteries, combining beloved fairy tales and mysteries. When the Pilot Falls offers a retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” that will keep you gripped to the edge of your seat as you watch hearts soar and daring dos.

When the Pilot Falls is currently available for purchase on Amazon.

Check on April’s blog tomorrow to see if she can find her hero!

And don’t miss entering for an Amazon card giveaway. Click the link below!


Snapshot #2

Yesterday was the beginning of my publisher’s annual We Love Our Readers Sale and Sweepstakes. The publishing company does a lot to bring this opportunity to you, but many of our authors contribute and sponsor the event as well. I want to share about two other of our sponsors – these two both write mystery/suspense!

Julie Cosgrove is an award-winning author of sixteen novels as well as short stories. She developed a passion for words at a young age. She began with word search puzzles. Then she solved the word games in the daily newspapers. She and her mother shared many fun hours playing Scrabble and Hang Man.

Then, another passion developed―whodunnits. She loved the Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes, and Hercule Poirot movies that played on Saturday afternoons on TV. Nancy Drew and the romantic mystery novels of the late Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt kept her eyes dancing over the pages through her school years.

Later in her adult life, her passion for Christ spurred her to write faith-based fiction and devotionals for several publications, which she has been doing since 2009. Her blog, Where Did You Find God Today?  now has readers in over fifty countries.

But her passion remains mystery, the cozier the better. Now, she has mysteries stacked up on her watchlist on Britbox and a long list of cozies on her e-reader’s to-be-read list. She loves to write them as well.

You can find all of her fiction and nonfiction books as well as her blog’s link on her website,

Her completed “Relatively Seeking Mysteries” is on sale this week because We Love Our Readers! Click the image to find out more about these three friends that get into some deep, hot water when they innocently begin investigating their ancestries. Who would think that something as benign as looking back into history could be so terribly dangerous? Learn more about book 1, One Leaf Too Many, HERE!

Suspense author Dena Netherton has a three-book series as well. “The Hunted” series is an edge of your seat psychological suspense dealing with a stalking situation that was inspired by real issues from the past. Now based in Wyoming, Dena writes with a goal to give you stories that are compelling neough to keep you up all night.

Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She studied music and theater in the Midwest and in Colorado and taught music for thirty-five years. In the 1970s, when Dena was just a teenager, her family took a road trip through the Pacific Northwest, ending with a stay in Anacortes, Washington, and a ferry ride through the San Juan Islands. She was captivated by the beauty of Washington’s west coast and vowed she’d one day move to the area. Forty years later, not only did God move her to the beautiful area, He inspired her with stories set there.

Dena’s prayer as a Christian author is that her stories inspire and encourage your faith. Her goal is to write stories compelling enough to keep you ‘up all night.’ Find Dena on her website:

Her series begins with Haven’s Flight.

How can you flee from an unseen enemy?

Haven Ellingsen enrolled in Life Ventures Therapy Camp in the Cascade Mountains to help her heal from horrible memories of her mother’s violent death at the hands of an armed robber. But now, a greater fear dogs her steps. The rustle of leaves or the snap of a twig could be nothing. Or it might signal the sinister presence of the stalker who won’t stop following her. It seems like a cruel trick from God to throw Haven into another dangerous situation only a year after her mom’s murder.

He hides near her tent and listens to the girl talk with the counselor. Mostly she talks about her father. She’s unhappy, and he can’t stand to listen and do nothing about it. He needs to rescue her. He needs to make sure she doesn’t ever go back to that man. His own father was the cause of his mother’s death. And Ruth’s. He can’t let that happen again. Not with this girl. When the time is right, he’ll take her away to his hidden cabin where she’ll be safe. And he will feel peace for the first time in years.

Can one month of survival training equip a girl to face all that the rugged wilderness and a madman can dish out?

All three books of the series are on sale this week. Click the image to reach the series page on Amazon HERE.

Don’t forget to also enter our sweepstakes. We’re giving away a free Kindle Fire, a selection of books for it, and a $50 Amazon gift card to boot! You’ll not want to miss out on this opportunity. Visit for the scoop!

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Who Stole Cinderella’s Slipper?

Today is the fifth day of the release fun for the Ever After Mystery series. You can find the beginning of this mystery HERE on Cathe Swanson’s blog! I’m so excited as mine is the second book to be release, A Giant Murder. All the stories have their roots in a fairy tale. Can you guess mine?

The first release, The Last Gasp is available now HERE. Squee! The Last Gasp is based on Cinderella, so to celebrate that book release, all of the Ever After authors are doing a short blog hop – complete with a mini-mystery and prizes.

Someone has stolen Cinderella’s glass slipper.

Why Rebekah Jones thought it was me, I’ll never know. (Read her post about it HERE!) But I was sure shocked when an officer showed up at my door.

“You are Marji Laine?”

“Yes.” I peeked across the street where Mrs. Myers was pretending to water her plants with an empty pitcher. Ugh. Gossip central. I stepped outside and waved in her direction as if I hadn’t a care in the world.

The officer barely paused. “And you picked up and have in your possession a glass slipper belonging to Cinderella?”

Mrs. Myers shot me a suspicious look and went back inside her house. At least, if I did hear gossip, I would know where it came from. “Yes and no.”

“You did not pick up the slipper?” The short man lifted an eyebrow and pierced me with a suspicious gaze.

“I picked it up all right. I hate spiders.”

“Excuse me?” Obviously, I had lost him, but I had no idea how. Seemed perfectly clear to me.

“I was wearing sandals when I visted that mine. I didn’t want to take the chance that the creepy bug would skitter onto my toes.” And that little thing was speedy, too. “The glass slipper was just there on one of the displays at the little souvenir store. I picked it up and smushed that bug, quick as a wink.”

He looked at me like he was waiting for more.

I glanced back toward the Myers’s house just in time to see the blinds on one of her windows drop back into place.


I let my head roll back and looked up at the ceiling of the porch. “I didn’t mean to take it. I didn’t even know it was in my bag. It had slipped down to the depths of my mammoth purse and I didn’t even uncover it until I got off the plane at DFW airport.”


“Well, I couldn’t take it all the way back. And I didn’t want to keep it. I might be willing to murder a wandering bug, but I’m no thief.” Of all the nerve. “Besides, if the thing got busted, I’d have felt horrible!”


If I didn’t get this man out of here, my whole neighborhood would be spinning stories in no time. “I took it into the airport restaurant and left it next to a pile of menues. That’s all I know about it.”

The eyebrow rose again as he jotted something into his notepad. “Can anyone corroborate your story?”

I lifted my chin and raised an eyebrow at him for a change. “As a matter of fact, April Hayman can. She was seated next to the hostess stand where I put the slipper. I left it there, found my baggage, and zipped back home.” So there.

As you can see… I am not the guilty party.

Thankfully, the officer left and Mrs. Myers was robbed of her juicy, spreadable tidbit.

But apparently, some princess’s prom shoe is still missing. Maybe April knows something about it? You can find out what she has to say on her blog HERE, tomorrow!

Follow the clues each day to discover the culprit. And click THIS LINK to enter to win an Amazon gift card!

What Makes a Mystery Good?

I’m so happy to have rejoined the Suspense Sisters group! Oh I missed being part of that little circle! My first article last month was about good mysteries. You can see it HERE!

Now you know I love a good mystery! But exactly what is it that makes a mystery good?

I’m convinced that it isn’t only one thing, but a combination of stellar qualities that makes a juicy mystery truly memorable. One that stands out in my mind right now is by Colleen Coble, Tidewater Inn. I won’t give you any spoilers, but when the main character is doing a video call (or something like that) with her best friend, the other woman is kidnapped while she looks on. And that’s just the start of the suspense.

I think I read that book about seven years ago and it still makes an impact. Now that’s a good mystery. And yes, I know it was technically a suspense, but the best suspense stories have a juicy mystery involved. (And I’ll put COUNTER POINT and BREAKING POINT in the category of suspense with mystery).

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll share some of my thoughts on what makes a great mystery, but you can get things rolling. A free copy of COUNTER POINT is up for grabs to one commenter answering this question: Name a mystery you recently read (or saw) and share what made it memorable.