Sunday, January 26, 2014

Scraps of Evidence by Barbara Cameron

Scraps of Evidence
Abingdon Press (January 21, 2014)
Barbara Cameron

Chapter 1

Tess fought back a yawn as she walked into her aunt’s hospital room. Excitement had kept her awake half the night.

“I told you that you didn’t need to come,” her aunt said when she saw Tess. But she smiled.

“I wanted to.” She bent down and kissed her cheek. “You’re my favorite aunt.”

“I’m your only aunt.” “Still my favorite.”

Tess pulled a chair up to the side of the bed and set the tote bag she carried on the floor. “What did the doctor say?”

“No concussion. But I have to stay another day for observa- tion. Doctors,” she muttered, her mouth turning down at the corners.

Tess studied her aunt’s pale face. Sometimes when she looked at her she missed her mother so much it hurt. She didn’t know what she’d do if she lost her, too.

She shook off the thought. Her aunt was just in her late fifties and in good health. There was no reason to believe she wouldn’t be around for a long time.

“Big day today, huh?”

“The biggest. It’s what I’ve been working toward since I graduated from the police academy.”

Her aunt reached for her hand and squeezed it. “I’m happy for you.”

“Brought you something.”

“You shouldn’t have. You look tired.”

“Gee. Thanks.” She pulled the makeup bag from the tote and her aunt pounced on it.

“Oh, thank goodness!” Kathy cried. “They gave me a comb but a girl needs her lipstick to feel human.”

She pulled out a compact, opened it, and grimaced. “Oh, my, it’s worse than I thought.”

Using her forefinger, she dabbed some concealer cream on the delicate skin under one eye, then shook her head.

“Going to have a bit of a shiner there,” she said with a sigh. She patted on some powder, applied some lipstick, then smiled at her appearance. “Not bad.”

“You look great. No one expects you to look like a beauty queen in the hospital.”

“One must keep up one’s appearance,” Kathy said, folding her hands primly on top of the blanket covering her.

Aunt Kathy had always reminded Tess of Grace Kelly, that icy blond actress in the old movies they’d watched together on TV years ago.

Tess was the opposite. She wore her shoulder length blond hair in a no-nonsense twist or ponytail, hated makeup, and instead of being dainty had been five-foot-ten since high school. Oh, and there were those ten unwanted pounds that persisted in sticking around no matter what she did.

Her aunt turned the mirror on Tess. “Forgot something?” She wanted to roll her eyes, but decided not to. With a big sigh, Tess pulled a tube of lip gloss out of her pocket and swiped it across her mouth.

“My, my, don’t be primping so much,” her aunt said with a touch of sarcasm as Tess tucked the tube back in her pocket.

“Makeup just slides right off my face in this heat.” “I like your new look.”

Tess stared down at her lightweight navy jacket and slacks worn with a crisp white shirt. She liked what it represented more. Not that she’d ever minded wearing a uniform. It was what had gotten her to this point. Now, she simply wore a dif- ferent one.

“You’re young,” Kathy said. “I guess you don’t need as much makeup as an old lady like me. And you’ve got those high, high cheekbones that don’t need blush for emphasis. Some blue shadow would really bring out those eyes, though.”

“You’re not old. And I’m twenty-eight. That’s not exactly young.”

Tess reached down and withdrew a blue quilt from the tote bag and placed it on her aunt’s lap. “I thought you might like to have it here to remind you of home.”

Her aunt tried to sit up. Tess sprang out of her chair, helped raise the bed a bit and adjusted the pillow behind her aunt’s head.


“Yes, thanks.”

Tess watched as Kathy unfolded the quilt and stroked it. “It’s my favorite.”

“I know.”

She raised a corner of it to her cheek and her eyes closed, then opened. “I’ll never forget the day Gordon walked into my shop.”

“He was this big, burly police officer,” Tess prompted with a smile.

“So you’ve heard the story, eh?”

Tess laughed. “About a million times,” she said.

Kathy nodded, but she smiled and didn’t take offense. “But tell it to me again.” She leaned back in her chair.

“I thought he was coming to tell me I was illegally parked out front or something,” her aunt said, her eyes beginning to take on a faraway look. “It was so hard to find parking because they were working on the street for the longest time. But he had this bag of clothes in his hands. Fabric scraps.”

“Things that had been worn by his sister and his mother.” “Um-hmm. He thought his mother would enjoy having a

quilt made of them. Mother’s Day was coming up.”

“So he brought in a few pieces each week and you made the quilt.”

“That’s right.” She examined the stitching on one square and then, apparently finding it satisfactory, tucked it around her. “Something just clicked into place. We had coffee a couple of times in February, began dating. We were married by the time Mother’s Day rolled around.”

“So Gordon’s mother got two presents.”

“I don’t think she saw it that way. We weren’t very good friends at first. Gordon could have been a little more diplo- matic about letting her know our plans to get married.”

Tess felt his presence before she saw him. She wasn’t sure why but it had always been so.

“What’s this talk about I’m not diplomatic?” Gordon asked in his booming voice.

He strolled into the room, a tall, big-boned man. Like his wife, he was in his fifties and worked out often so his white dress shirt stretched tightly over his barrel chest.

Her aunt jumped. “Gordon! You startled me.”

He just laughed, removed the toothpick dangling from his mouth and bent to kiss her head. “Oh, stop the fussing’, Kathy,” he drawled.

“If you hadn’t done that—” she stopped, pressed her lips tightly, and plucked at the quilt.

Gordon turned to Tess. “So, hear your new partner’s due in today. Big city guy, eh?”

“That’s what I hear.”

She watched him as he prowled around the room, peer- ing at the bouquets her aunt had received. When he passed a mirror that hung on one wall, he peered into it critically and checked his crew cut. The short strands stood at attention on his head as if not daring to lie down on the job.

Then he began moving around the room again, as if restless. He pulled a card from an arrangement of daisies and frowned at it. “Who’s this Lee?”

“A woman at church.” “You sure?”

Kathy sighed. “Yes. You met her once. Lee Weatherby.” “Hmm. Yeah. I remember. Old biddy.” He tucked the card

back in the bouquet and glanced at his watch. “Gotta go. I’ll check in on you later.”

“You can’t stay for a few minutes?”

He shook his head. “Have to see the chief. We’re still work- ing out the details of my promotion. It’s a big deal to be second in command, you know.”

“I know. I just haven’t seen you much later.”

“It’ll settle down soon. I’ll check in on you later.” He patted her head and turned to Tess. “You working today?”

“You know I am,” she said mildly.

He grinned, removed his toothpick, and tossed it in the trash. It missed, but he didn’t slow down to pick it up on his way out of the room.

Tess turned to her aunt and saw she watched her husband’s exit with a mixture of sadness and bewilderment.

“Aunt Kathy?” She waited until she turned to look at her. She hesitated, then plunged ahead. “Is everything okay with you and Gordon?”

She raised her eyebrows. “Of course. Why do you ask such a question?”

“I still don’t know how you got hurt.”

“Oh, it was so silly, really,” Kathy said. “I just tripped over

Prissy, that’s all. She always seems to be underfoot.”

Prissy was a very spoiled Persian her aunt had had for many years. Tess had never known her to hang out anywhere but the sofa and around the food bowl.

“You’re sure?” Tess asked quietly.

“Of course.” She looked over the side of the bed. “Now, I don’t suppose you have anything else in that tote bag, do you?” Laughing, Tess picked it up and handed it to her. Kathy grinned as she pulled out the quilt she was currently working on. Tess helped her spread it out, find her needles and thread in the sewing basket she’d brought. Then she sat back as her aunt happily began working. “You didn’t bring yours?”

Tess shook her head. “I knew I wouldn’t have enough time. But maybe tomorrow. I’m off.” She glanced at her watch. “I’m sorry, but I need to get going. Anything you need before I leave?”

“Not a thing. Oh, did you feed Prissy when you went by the house? Gordon forgets when I’m not home.”

“Sure did.” And Prissy had simply looked at her disdain- fully from her place on the sofa.

Kathy held out her hands and Tess took them. “Father, walk with Tess and protect her and keep her safe. Help her to do her job to the best of her ability. Thank you. Amen.”

Tess squeezed her hands and smiled, then stood and hugged her. “See you tomorrow. Call me before then if you need anything.”

The heat hit her like a wet blanket the minute she left the building. Another July in St. Augustine, oldest city in the country. She was that rare thing—a native Floridian —and in all her twenty-eight years she couldn’t remember a hotter one.

As much as she wanted to hurry into the air-conditioned haven of the unmarked car she’d been assigned as a detective, she forced herself not to rush. Hurrying just made it feel hot- ter and besides, she’d likely be out in the heat for much of the rest of the day. She started the car, turned the a/c on high, and knew that she’d probably be at the station before the interior cooled off.

A sightseeing tram pulled in front of her at the light beside the police station. The driver recognized Tess and she waved.

Tess smiled and muttered, “Hurry up,” beneath her breath. Nothing was slower than the tram. Except for the horse-drawn carriages. Thankfully, none of those were in sight.

With time to spare, she pulled into the parking lot, gath- ered her things, and walked inside.

Maria from Records sat eating a sandwich in the break room. Tess stowed her lunch in the refrigerator.

“First day on the new job, huh? How’s it feel?” “Pretty good.”

“Met the new guy yet?” “Not yet.”

Maria fanned herself with her hand. “Hot.”

Tess chuckled and shook her head. “You’re bad. See you later.”

Two men stood just inside the roll call room, their backs turned to her.

“Ever had a female partner before?” she heard one of them ask. Tom Smithers. Figured.


Tess froze, wondering what Smithers was going to say next. “Well, you’ve got your work cut out for you, buddy,” Smithers said and he laughed.

The other man turned and he saw Tess. Her training had taught her to capture an impression quickly and what she got was intense: his eyes were green and honed in on her, his posture military straight, and his stance at attention. He looked to be in his early thirties. Tall, probably six-two, and like Maria had said, he was hot: male model pretty with black hair and an easy grin.

“Aw, heck, she’s right behind me, isn’t she?” Smithers asked when the man grinned.

He laughed. “What do you think?”

Stepping forward, he offered his hand. “Detective Villanova. Nice to meet you. I’m Logan McMillan, your new partner.”

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Songs of the Shenandoah by Michael Reynolds

Songs of the Shenandoah
B&H Books (January 1, 2014)
Michael Reynolds

Chpater 1 - Excerpt

Christmas in Manhattan
Manhattan, New York
December 1860

Clare had been anticipating this moment for more than a decade.

It was to be the most glorious Christmas dinner of her life, with her cherished guests about to arrive, and she was intent on making every detail of her hospitality an expression of the profound love she felt for her family.

After all of this time and separated by so many distant miles of untamed territories, they would be home at last.

She stepped back, raised her hand to her chin, and considered the placement of the candles that were set in brass holders, tied with golden ribbons, and placed on a red silk runner, which went down the center and spilled over the sides of a long cherry table.

The flames rising from the wicks and those emanating from wood crackling in the marble-framed fireplace combined to light up the spacious dining room and cause shadowy figures to shift on the walls between painted portraits and landscapes.

The pine boughs she had weaved so delicately on the shelving
and mantelpiece of the room smelled of fresh-cut evergreen. These scents blended with those from the mistletoe arranged on the table and the potpourri simmering in a copper kettle at the foot of the fire, providing a festive symphony of Christmastime aromas.

Garret, with his black tussle of curls, had his back to her, his knees perched on the bay-window ledge, fogging up the glass as he waited anxiously for the arrival of relatives he had known only through letters and photographs.

Standing beside Clare, her sister polished the crystal drinking glasses around the table with the aid of a napkin. The flickering candlelight splashed delicately on Caitlin’s face, who at thirty years with her long, wavy blond hair, high cheekbones, and fair complexion appeared much younger.

“This one is quite chipped.” Caitlin held the glass up to Clare.

“If you look closely, you’ll see they all have their blemishes, I am afraid. Much the same as me.” Clare reached down and picked up one of the china dishes. “Look at these poor fellows. If they survive this . . . last supper, it will be only due to God’s mercy.”

Clare held up one of the silver knives, tarnished beyond repair, and sighed. “Oh to see what has become of all of this! If Andrew’s mother were still with us, she would no doubt have good reason to lecture her daughter-in-law. A sad caretaker of the Royce empire I have proven to be.”

Caitlin plucked the piece of silverware from her sister’s hand and laid it in its proper place on the table. “These are different times. Troubling times. There is victory in . . . just maintaining our position.”

“What I would do to maintain. What a glorious ring that word has to it. No, we slip further with each day.” Clare glanced at her fingertips. “And I have calluses to prove how precipitously we hang on.”

The harmonies of well-sung Christmas songs wafted through the window. “What’s this I hear?” Clare headed to the window.

“Ma,” Garret said, without turning. “There’s carolers coming.”

“What a welcome sound to our evening.” Caitlin nodded to her sister to join them.

“Enough fussing about the cutlery.” Clare squeezed her son’s shoulder. “I should be ashamed to be bantering about such things on this of all evenings.”

The three of them peered out the window, smiles warming their faces as they gazed through the misty veil of the falling snow. There, under the gaslight, was a gathering of seven sharply dressed singers, the women in bonnets and colorful dresses and the men sporting tall hats and tailored coats. Each stood closely together and were wrapped tightly in scarfs as steam rose with each Yuletide verse they sang.

As she savored the words and muted melodies of the song, Clare whispered a prayer of thanks for this neighborhood she lived in and this house, a fieldstone two-story structure that despite sorely needing new paint still rose above the others on her block.

“Should we go outside?” Garret turned and smiled sweetly, but his eye had swollen even more in the past hour, and it was darkening.

Clare had almost forgot about his fight earlier in the day with the boys at the park. “Oh, that looks dreadful, son.” She put her hand on his cheek. “If only you had the sense to ignore them and just walk away.”

“You know I won’t allow them to speak of you and Da so unkindly.”

“What did they say to you?” Caitlin asked. “I hadn’t heard.”

Garret looked to Clare for permission to answer, which she grudgingly provided with a nod.

“They don’t like Ma’s writing in the newspaper.” He turned to face the window, his freckled cheeks reflecting in the glass.

“They say she hates her own people and wishes she was a Negro slave.”

“Who said these horrible words?” Her eyes wide, Caitlin looked to Clare. “You should have told those . . . dreadful whelps . . . that your dear mother has been the greatest gift to the Irish this city has ever laid eyes on. No one has done more for her people than—Oh my, who is that precious little girl playing in the snow?”

Clare peered outside and her entire body tensed. She tapped her knuckles on the window. “Ella Royce! You come in here immediately.”

Garret looked back with his mouth agape. “Ma, you’re going to scare away the carolers.”

In a few moments the front door snapped open and Clare’s daughter entered the dining room with guilty and moist steps, her brown hair flecked with snow and her face ruby red from the cold. Ella was wearing only a blue cotton dress, and she had a latticed
apron folded up to hold some concealed items that appeared precious to her.

Clare propped her palms on her waist. “What a sight is this! Your clothes are all but ruined and you most assuredly have caught a chill. And what . . . what are you hiding there?”

The child shook her head and appealed to her aunt Cait with sappy brown eyes for some sort of support, which, as always, she was all too willing to provide.

Caitlin bent over and carefully opened the girl’s apron and peeked in. “Well if those aren’t the most well-formed snowballs I’ve ever seen. May I?” When Ella nodded, Caitlin pulled out one of the white frozen orbs and held it up with reverence as if it were hand chipped from marble.

“Do you know the effort we’ve gone to get this house and you decorated in the spirit of Christmas?” Clare glared at her sister who had her hands to her lips, her mouth threatening to open in laughter. “And you are villain as well for your encouragement.”

Clare turned to her daughter. “Now what madness would cause you to go out in the storm . . . dressed as such, and bring those . . . snowballs into this home, young lady?”

Ella bit her lip and glanced over to her brother and then Caitlin. “I fetched them for Garret. It will make his eye feel better.”

The words pierced Clare’s matronly scowl, and she rubbed her hand on her face. Then she bent down with a deep breath of apology and kissed Ella on her head. “And that, my kind heart, is why we named you after your grandmama.”

She glanced back out the window to see if the carolers remained, but they had moved on and the snow now drifted down in heavy flakes with the flutter of butterflies. “Oh dear, I hope it will be safe to travel. To come all of the way from California, thousands of miles, only to perish in the streets of New York City on their way from the harbor.”

“Seamus, the mountain man turned pastor, and young Davin the famed gold miner?” Caitlin exchanged a look with Clare and they both laughed. “How could they stray? One finds lost souls and the other lost treasures.”

“We certainly could use strengthening of both our faith and fortunes.” Clare glanced at the clock on the wall. “Andrew, Andrew, my dear husband, why are you taking so long?”

Just at that moment, a clamor came from the front entrance way and both of the children went running for the door.

“Oh my, they are here.” Clare fanned her face with her hand, suddenly feeling flush.

Clare entered the hallway just as Andrew walked in through the door, his tall frame bent over while toting two large cases, with a smaller one tucked under his arm. He lumbered over and set them down noisily, then he removed his round spectacles, swept his hand through his blond hair, and shook snow from it to the floor.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Tempest's Course by Lynette Sowell

Tempest's Course
Abingdon Press (December 17, 2013)
Lynette Sowell

Chapter 1


April 1853
New Bedford, Massachusetts

They say a madwoman cannot make sense of the world around her, let alone write about it, but I can. My empty arms are full, but my heart tells me that it will never be full again. The one light of my life is gone from me, and I have no embers from which to coax a new spark.

My atonement is futile. I have no other choice other than the one before me. If Almighty God is listening from Heaven, surely He will accept this sacrifice. Perhaps the generations to follow will as well.

Chapter 1

Present Day

Kelly Frost tried not to shiver as she stood on the sidewalk in front of Gray House, but she did anyway. The breeze driftingfrom New Bedfords waterfront had some bite in it, even for May. Kelly squinted against the suns glare reflecting off a car door, now slammed shut.

An efficient-looking woman made her way with precise steps to the gate that protected the front lawn of Gray House from nosy passersby and visitors. “Sorry Im late. I would have told you to meet me at the real estate office, but the house is closer. She unlocked the gate and swung it open. The iron- work complained at the disturbance.

Not a problem, Kelly said as she followed the womanMrs. Acres, was it?up the cobbled sidewalk, then the wooden steps.

Ive been instructed to open the house for you while you complete your assessment of the piece, then lock up when youre ready to go. Mrs. Acres now worked the front door lock with an ancient key. How long do you think youll need?

An hour, most likely. Shed made assessments of antique and ancient textiles before, and this current request should be little different than other times in the past.

Ill be back in two. Mincies at the groomers, and shell be done before you will be. Mrs. Acres leaned on the front door, then bumped it with her shoulder. Stubborn door. I cant tell you the last time we opened the place up.
The heavy wooden door swung inward and the scent of closed-up housestale air and duststruck them. Something tickled the inside of Kellys nose, but it was Mrs. Acres who sneezed.

Oh,  my, the dust.  Mrs. Acres shook her head. “Do you know where the quilt is?

Kelly nodded. I was told the quilt should be in the master bedroom on the second floor. The one with the Italian marble fireplace. She hoped the lady wouldnt start a long conversation. Small talk made her itch, like freshly mown grass. She shifted her tote bag on her shoulder.

Two hours, and Ill  be back.  Mrs. Acres turned  on her heel, then paused before she exited the house. Dont steal the silver. We count it. With that, she gave a little giggle and shut the front door behind her.

The entryway alone made Kelly stare. What woodwork. The curved banister of the great main staircase snaked upward to the second floor. As she stood in the entryway, she could see down a long hallway with rooms off each side. Immediately to her right stood a set of wooden pocket doors. Her curious bent made her want to start walking, room by room, to see what treasures lay inside. Or dust magnets, rather. Now it was her turn to sneeze.

Instead, thoughts of her skinny bank account spurred her to take the creaking stairs to the second floor and find the master bedroom. Depending on the work required to restore the quilt, she hoped to at least pay the bills for the rest of the year. Beyond that, well, shed figure something out. She always did, because shed always had to.

The wood of the banister was cool and smooth under her fingertips. Again, the history hanging in the air made her pause at the top of the steps. The house supposedly hadnt had a resi- dent in at least fifty years, perhaps longer. Or so Mrs. Acres had guessed. Kelly stepped from room to room, to see which one had the marble fireplace. Furniture draped in heavy cloth would probably resemble ghosts at night, with moonbeams streaming through  the window glass. Even in the daytime, her overactive imagination caused another shiver, this one not from a cool breeze. Which room? Shed counted no less than four chimneys sprouting from the rooftop when she stood out- side. That meant at least eight fireplaces, possibly more.

Master bedroom. There were two bedrooms that could have qualified. She found the right room, with its dark mahogany furniture uncovered, a folded-up piece of cream-colored cloth on the bed. The quilt.

Kelly set her tote bag on the bed and took out some gloves. As if the oil from her fingertips would cause any more damage to this poor, tattered, sewn mass of patches. Dirt, the age of years, and what looked to be singes from a fireall qualified this work for the rag bag. Yet someone, namely the head of Firstborn Holdings, LLC, had sent her a request for a bid to restore the neglected and abused fabric.

All you need is a little love and careful handling, she said aloud, her voice echoing in the room. The folded-up  layers of fabric needed to be inspected, inch by inch, which meant Kelly needed to find a place to spread out the quilt. Somewhere with better lighting than the bedroom. One of the inner shutters that covered the windowpanes effectively blocked out the sunlight, but even with both shutters open, the light wouldnt nearly be enough.

She should have ventured enough small talk to ask Mrs. Acres if the electricity was connected in the vacant whaling captains mansion. She tried a light switch. Nothing. Downstairs there was likely a dining room and a table, with better natural light. Kelly refolded  the quilt, then grabbed her tote bag and headed downstairs.

Time to see what was behind those double pocket doors. Holding the quilt tucked under one elbow, Kelly tugged on the right door. It groaned and complained as it slid on its track, but disappeared as it entered the pocket in the wall. A living room, with more furniture draped with sheets, covering a room-size wool carpet, Persian if she was correct on the pat- tern. Now that was something worth restoring. But then shed need a studio to do that, and staff willing to help her. The woven pattern was the height of interior decoration at its time, its oriental influences apparent. Had the owner of the house purchased it on one of his expeditions, or traded for it in some exotic port of call?

Diagonally across the room lay another set of pocket doors, so Kelly headed for those, and slide one of them open. Pay dirt.

A mahogany dining room table ran the length of the space and could comfortably sit sixteen diners. Its flat surface would be ideal to inspect the quilt, and a quartet of windows would give plenty of light. Kelly arranged the quilt on the table before she opened the shutters to let some sunlight into the room, taking care not to let the light fall directly onto the old fabric waiting for her on the table.

She removed her notebook and pen from her tote bag, along with a measuring tape. Yes, this was the first real nibble of work shed had since the disaster with the Boston Fine Arts Museum. Maybe if she got this bid, the owner might want the other textiles in the home seen to as well. Maybe she could scrounge up a few interns to help her for free, if theyd be brave enough to put her name on their résumé.

The frayed binding told her that the quilt was mere stitches away from disintegrating. When she stepped back and looked at the whole design, she saw the classic mariners  compass pattern. The design made her smile. How appropriate for New Bedford. Gray House was situated on County Street, close to the historic district of the former whaling capital of the world. The rays of five compasses spread out from five points on the quilts  field. The muted hues of the diamond-shaped  blocks that made the compass patterns told her that someone had used this quilt quite a lot in its day.

She took out her telephone and dialed the phone number for the contact she had at Firstborn Holdings, a Mr. William Chandler. A voice mail message answered.