When the character of Cora Chevalier came to me, her voice was demanding to be heard. I fought the urge to place her in Cumberland Creek with my beloved scrapbookers. It would be easier and certainly less risky. But, after a good bit of soul searching, I thought she'd be better suited for her own series. I hope you do, as well.
I'd like to thank my readers who've come along from the Cumberland Creek Mysteries. Thanks and welcome to new readers, as well.
Also, thanks to the Waynesboro Police Department for the fingerprint inspiration and for answering my questions. I have yet to pass a fingerprint test. Sigh.
A special thanks goes to my very hardworking editor, Martin Biro, who let me speak two or three sentences about Cora before he said: “I love it. Let's run with it.” Editors who know the correct of use semicolons and commas are a dime a dozen. But editors with imagination and vision (along with all that other stuff) are a bit harder to come by. Thanks, Martin.
And speaking of vision, I must thank Sharon Bowers, who did not bat an eye at this newbie cookbook author who wanted to try her hand at fiction. She merely said, “Let's see what you can do and how we can help.” Thank you, Sharon.
A great big hug goes to my beta readers: Amber Benson, Jennifer Feller, and Rosemary Stevens. I don't know what I'd do without you! Thank you so much!
Writing can be a lonely endeavor, but I've found the mystery-writing community to be open and very supportive. I won't list everybody's names (because I'm sure to forget someone), but you know who you are. Some of you have driven miles with me, some have stolen away with me at conferences to offer a shoulder and advice, been my “lucky” roommates, and others comment on my Facebook feed nearly every day. Heartfelt gratitude to you allâas well as the countless bloggers and reviewers who give their time and energy freely.
Last, but not least, I want to thank my family, though I'm sure I could never thank them enough. Emma, Tess, and Eric, I love you madly. I appreciate the time and space you give me to follow my dreams.
Did Jane just say “police station?”
“What did you say?” Cora Chevalier said, then typed on her laptop:
Every detailâfrom the mundane cleaning of the chestnut floors and ordering of broom straw and beeswax, to crafting centerpieces and designing class curriculumsâhas been attended to.
No waitâattended to? Was that right?
“Cora!” Jane said, bringing her attention back to the voice on the phone.
“I'm sorry, Jane,” Cora said, turning away from her computer. “Writing about our first craft retreat takes more focus than blogging about crafting paper lanterns or making bird feeders out of old teacups and saucers. I'm in the zone. But you have my full attention now. Did you say you're at the police station?”
“Yes. Please pick up London from school. We'll talk about this later,” Jane said, with exasperation in her voice. Cora's best friend throughout childhood, and now her partner in a new business, Jane and her daughter lived in the carriage house on the property.
“But waitâ” Cora said, but Jane was already gone. Cora pictured her sophisticated-looking, long-legged friend sitting at the police station, surrounded by Barney Fife types. A totally unfounded image, of course; she'd never even seen a police officer in her new hometown. They now lived in North Carolina, which was also where the fictional Mayberry was located, but Indigo Gap was no Mayberry.
Why was Jane at the police station? What was going on? It was odd that she couldn't get away to pick up her daughter from school. Why wouldn't the police allow her to pick up London?
on her blog post, glanced at the clock on her computer, and realized she'd need to hurry if she was going to fetch London. She dreaded going inside the school. Because she wasn't an actual parent, she wasn't allowed to collect her from the car. For being in such a small town, the school was extremely concerned about security. Maybe it had something to do with the recent suspicious death of the school librarian.
Cora left her attic apartment, which also housed her makeshift office, and walked down the narrow half flight of stairs to the third story. The door opened to a wide hallway. Four bedrooms, already prepared for the guests, were located here. The lemon scent of polish tickled Cora's nose as she took in the gleaming chestnut floors before descending the next flight to the second floor, also shiny and smelling clean and fresh. She moseyed down the half flight to the landing before the main story, where she always paused to take in the stained-glass window, its colors vibrant or soft depending on the time of day. Crimson, gold, and shades of blue glass pieces formed an image of Brigid, goddess or saint.
After moving into her new home, Cora had done some research on both the history of the house and St. Brigid and discovered that Brigid was a goddess in ancient Ireland. She was the goddess of poetry, fire, the hearth, and crafts, an appropriate deity for a craft retreat. Through the centuries in Ireland, the myth later became tangled with stories of the abbess and much later, the saint. These stories became so enmeshed that it was difficult to tell the Brigids apart.
Cora loved to muse about Brigid and thought of her as her patron goddess. The original owners of the house must also have had a strong connection to Brigid, as they had immigrated from Kildare, Ireland, where St. Brigid's Cathedral still sat.
Cora ambled down the rest of the stairs to face a mess in the foyer. She was knee-deep in a shipment of broom straw, which she navigated her way around. Their first guest teacher, Jude Sawyer, an award-winning broom maker, hand selected and ordered the straw for the upcoming weekend retreat.
Now, where had she left her purse? Cora worked her way around the boxes and moved toward the kitchen, which was in the back of the house and where she usually left her purse.
Ah-ha! She spotted it on the kitchen counter. She grabbed her crocheted bag and turned to leave, running smack into Ruby, the woman who came with the house. Literally. She was grandfathered into the mortgage. She'd lived in the gardener's cottage for years and wanted to stay. Luckily for Cora and Jane, she was a gifted herbalist and fit right in with their plans for the old place.
“Oops!” Cora said, dropping her purse and bending over to get it.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry?” Ruby said, sounding accusatory.
“I'm off to pick up London. Something's come up with Jane.” Cora was again thinking of Jane at the police stationâshe wanted to laugh the image off, but ominous feelings tugged at her.
What the heck was Jane doing there? Where was the police station, anyway? Cora had witnessed much of Jane's troubled past and hoped this incident was not a harbinger of more trouble heading her way.
“Okay. I need to talk with you,” Ruby said, following Cora to the door.
“Sure,” Cora said. “But can it wait until I get back?”
“I suppose. It's about the beeswax shipment. They sent me the wrong stuff.”
“Great.” Cora sighed as she slid in her car. “Just what we need. We'll take care of it later.”
Ruby stood with hands on her hips, shaking her head as she watched Cora drive off.
“Take a deep breath, girl,” Cora told herself. She'd smooth things over with Ruby after she picked up London. Ruby, a slightly stooped white-haired woman of a certain age, used specific suppliers for her herbal crafts. But if Cora was going to pay for them, she thought she should get a say in it. Simply one of the little hiccups in establishing a new business, Cora told herself. There had been plentyâand she expected more.
Getting the place in shape and up to code had been a challenge, but things were finally coming together. The paper-craft room was almost finished. The fiber-arts room still needed a lot more work. And her first three-day retreat was scheduled to start Thursday night with a welcome reception. Classes were to be led by Cora herself, a guest teacher, and Ruby. Nine women registered to stay, plus three locals signed up for the classes. Cora couldn't have been more pleased with the number. Oh sure, they could take more crafters, but for their first retreat, nine was manageable.
Cora parked the car in the school lot, and noted the snaking line of cars full of harried parents. She was impressed with herself, as she'd reached the school a few minutes early. Cora had been to the school before and knew the earlier she arrived, the better. She walked into the office and was met by a well-coiffed receptionist. “Can I help you?” the woman asked.
“I'm here to pick up London Starr.”
“Are you on her approved list?” She gazed at Cora over the top of her glasses.
“I think so,” Cora said. Something about the woman's tone made her self-conscious. Her perfectly made-up face and hot-pink nails tapping impatiently on the desk didn't help matters.
Cora tried to remember if she'd even brushed her hair today. At least she had gotten dressed earlier than usual because of the expected deliveries. She wore her favorite 1970s vintage blue baby-doll dress with leggings and red tennis shoes. Nothing wrong with what she was wearing, yet this woman spewed bad vibes. Was it Cora's unruly red hair? She ran her fingers through her bangs and tucked a few strands behind her ear.
“Name?” said the receptionist.
“Yes, Ms. Chevalier. You are on the list,” the receptionist said, after checking her computer files.
Cora stood a little straighter, now that she'd met with official approval.
“Ms. Teal?” the receptionist said into the phone. “Please send London Starr to the front office. She'll be right down,” she said to Cora and went back to her work on the computer.
Cora shifted her weight, looked at the clock, and folded her hands together in front of her. The office behind the receptionist buzzed with end-of-school-day activity. Phones were blaring, backpacks were handed over, and weary office workers glanced at the clock.
Soon the door flung open and there stood London, holding Ms. Teal's hand. When she spotted Cora, the girl ran toward her.
“Cora!” she said and hugged her, but then immediately asked, “Where's Mommy?”
Cora was just about to blurt out the news when she realized that everybody in the little school office was within hearing range. Best not to say,
Your mom's at the police station.
She reached for London's hand. “Let's go, sweetie. We'll talk in the car.”