Buried Secrets, the sequel to The Cavanaugh House, will be published on Oct. 3, 2016, but you can pre-order your print or Kindle copy today at Amazon. I’m celebrating a little early with a sneak peek at Chapter One. Read the opening scene in last week’s blog, “Buried Secrets is Finally Unearthed.” Today you can read scene two.
When Jesse Graham almost runs over a “body” in the road one night, she is plunged into a labyrinth of secrets, lies and murder. All Jesse wants is a simple life teaching at St. Bart’s… and a chance at love with Joe Riley. She realizes that plan has been thwarted when puzzling occurrences at St. Bartholomew Academy for Girls get increasingly dangerous. The danger doesn’t just spring from the ghost who haunts the grounds of St. Bart’s, but from a sinister presence that is not ghostly at all. As she digs into the mystery, threats on her life and the life of her student escalate. Which danger threatens her life the most? The ghost haunting her student or the secrets buried in the school?
Available for pre-order at Amazon.
Buried Secrets: Chapter One, scene two:
The rain picked up as she sped along Route 14 toward Seneca Corners. Checking the rearview mirror, she flinched at the sight of flashing red lights in her rearview mirror.
“Oh, crap,” she murmured, pulling to the side of the road. It might cost her a speeding ticket, but at least she got some official attention. Shifting her Beetle into neutral, she opened the glove box, retrieved her registration and proof of insurance, and placed them on the seat beside her. When she rolled down the window, rain spattered her in the face. She ducked back in when a clap of thunder followed a blinding flash of lightning. A dark figure hunched in a rain poncho jogged up to her car. Even from this vantage point, she recognized him.
“License and registration, please!” The deep voice boomed through the rain.
She kept her hands on the steering wheel.
“License and registration, please!”
She tapped her fingers on the steering wheel as the police officer leaned toward her, his forearm against the top of the window frame.
“I could arrest you, you know.” Officer Marty D’Amato’s threat rumbled like the thunder reverberating above them.
Jesse held her hands out the window, wrists together. “Cuff me, officer.”
“Geez, Jesse. Why are you speeding like a bat outta hell in this downpour?” He squinted into the rain pummeling his face. Holding his hand up to shade his eyes, he blinked at her. Drops danced off his poncho. He crouched when a bolt of lightning struck nearby and thunder obliterated her response.
With her thumb, Jesse indicated the back seat. Her friend’s deep brown eyes bugged out at the sight of the “body.”
“What the…? Who is that?”
“We haven’t been formally introduced yet, Marty. Why don’t we get out of this storm? You can follow me home, and we can meet her together.”
He nodded, sending a stream of rain running off his poncho and down the inside of her window.
They drove the few miles past Seneca Corners to the small house Jesse had moved into three months earlier, the one the locals called the Cavanaugh House. Along with the house, Jesse had inherited a ghost and a decades-old mystery that Marty had helped her solve, putting the ghost to rest. Even though the house had been deserted and dilapidated, she had grown to love it and its symbolism of the new start she had made with her life. Every time she pulled into her yard, she smiled—even tonight.
Her attempts at renewal were evident as her car headlights swept across the house. The paint still peeled and the porch roof still sagged, but evidence of her tender, loving care showed in the freshly painted front door, the neat lawn she’d reclaimed, and the new shrubs she had planted. What couldn’t be seen from the road was the work in progress on the plumbing and electrical systems.
She had no garage, so she pulled into the driveway as close to the porch as possible. Getting out, she flipped the seat forward and wrestled with the form. One of the dummy’s legs lodged under the front seat; she tugged until it snapped free and sent her falling backward onto the wet grass. Rain pelted her and splotches of mud splattered her shorts.
“You know, one of my fantasies is to watch two women mud wrestling, but this just isn’t doing it for me, Jesse,” Marty yelled to her over the downpour.
She glowered at him.
“Check the back seat to see if I left any body parts, Marty. Then help me get this thing into the house.” The blanket was soaked now and exuded the musty odors of wool, burlap, and hay.
Marty checked the back of the Volkswagen, patting the floor beneath both front seats.
“All body parts present and accounted for,” he said, helping her to her feet. His six-foot frame and muscular body dwarfed the dummy as he flung it over his shoulder, causing the wig to tumble to the ground. “What is this? Are you getting ready for Halloween two months early?”
She unlocked the front door, turned on the hall light, and held the door open so Marty could edge in with the dummy. Fresh paint and turpentine wafted to them from the living room.
“Smells like you’ve been working on the house,” he said as he propped the dummy against the wall. Slipping his poncho over his head, he draped it on a hook by the door then smoothed his tousled, thick, black hair. He hefted the dummy once again, following her into the kitchen.
She flipped on the overhead light and turned to him.
“Lay her on the table.”
“Okay, I’m not even going to respond to that remark.” His dark eyes twinkled as he dropped the form on the table.
She frowned at him and opened her ancient refrigerator with its rounded top. The appliance had been in the house since the 1940s and sent up gurgles of protest whenever she opened the door. She would have to replace it soon. Grabbing two Genesee Beers, she held out one bottle to Marty.
He shook his head. “I’m on duty.”
Replacing one, Jesse opened the other and took a swig. The cold liquid hit the back of her throat, chilling her. She savored the yeasty, malt flavor, sighing. It had been a long day with a bizarre ending. Setting her bottle on the counter, she ladled water out of a large pot on the oversized gas stove, poured it into the coffee carafe, pulled out some coffee, and put it on to brew. Marty looked at her, puzzled.
“What, you don’t have running water in this mansion?”
She snickered as she grabbed the dishtowel, wiped her face, and began to towel-dry her hair. “Joe has one of his plumbers working on the ancient plumbing system.” Even saying Joe’s name caused a flush of pleasure. Despite her recent broken engagement and subsequent vow to be as independent as the popular women’s liberation movement demanded, she could not deny her feelings for Joe Riley. In an attempt to hide her blush, she buried her face in the towel, pretending to dry it. She looked up to see Joe’s life-long friend grinning at her.
“Yes, Joe. He thought the plumbing system was in its death throes. I think it dates back to the Roman aqueducts. My water has been shut off for a couple of days, so I steal reserves from St. Bart’s. I also head over there in the predawn hours to shower in the girls’ locker room.”
“Stealing from nuns and orphans? I should arrest you for grand theft.” He jangled his handcuffs.
“They’re not orphans, Marty. They are daughters of the wealthy.”
“Like you, bella.” He examined the wool blanket.
“Please, don’t remind me.”
The richest family in the region, the Wyndhams owned a vast estate and winery and had founded St. Bartholomew’s Academy for Girls. In solving the mystery of the Cavanaugh House, she had discovered that she was the daughter of a Wyndham—the heir to the fortune. And she wanted no part of it. The two people closest to her, her mother, Eileen Graham, and her ex-fiancé, Robert Cronmiller, had been wealthy, beautiful, and cruel. Wealthy people had brought her nothing but heartache, and the farther she could distance herself from them, the better.
Her kitchen had faded yellow walls, a scuffed linoleum floor, and dated appliances. She smiled to herself. She much preferred this cozy, warm kitchen to the enormous, well-appointed Wyndham Manor with its mahogany staircase, Tiffany stained-glass windows, and marble floors.
She joined Marty as he began inspecting the dummy. Fashioned of burlap, it was secured with string at the feet and hands. Blackened cork or charcoal outlined a crudely drawn face. Marty had plopped the wig back on the form, but it was askew, trailing across the kitchen table in an eerie web. Grabbing the woolen blanket, Jesse examined it, starting at one edge.
“So are you going to tell me where you picked up your friend here?” he asked.
“She was lying in the middle of the road just outside St. Bart’s property,” Jesse said. “Hey! This blanket is from the school; it’s stamped Property of St. Bartholomew Academy for Girls in this corner. The good sisters are probably afraid it might get lost when one of the girls sneaks out for a secret tryst with a boy from St. Andrew’s.”
“St. Andrew’s is a seminary, Jesse.”
“I rest my case, Officer D’Amato,” she said, pouring a cup of coffee from the carafe and handing it to him. “Look, Marty, something is written across the burlap: ‘Your next.’ Aside from scaring me because it’s grammatically incorrect, this scares me with its intent.”
“It sure sounds like a threat—but for who? Whom? Now you’ve got me all nervous about my grammar, Miss English Teacher.”
She chuckled, continuing her examination of the cloth. “This burlap is stamped with a brand. I can’t quite make it out because it was cut up to make the limbs. It looks like a circle with a letter inside—an e or c, but I’m not sure.”
Marty leaned over her shoulder. “It’s a general, all-purpose feed sack. You can buy these anywhere.”
“But who would think to use it for a prank like this? This is just weird.” She squinted at the label, trying to discern more details.
“Looks like somebody’s getting a jump on Halloween tricks. I’ll bet a few of your St. Bart’s girls know something about this. What they don’t know about are charges of malicious mischief or worse if it had caused an accident.”
“It did freak me out. I thought I’d hit a real body.” That thump. The awkward angle. The hair. It’s not real, Jesse. But there was a glowing light moving through the trees. And a car.
“As I drove away, I saw a car in my rearview mirror pull away from a spot farther down the road. Unless the driver was sleeping, he saw me.” She drained her beer. “You know I don’t like mysterious cars on the road at night.”
“Yeah. The last time you went airborne, as I recall.” He studied her as he sipped his coffee. “You gonna to be okay, Nancy Drew? Mysteries seem to follow you around.”
She waved her hand at him, brushing away his concern. “Trust me, I don’t want anything more to do with mysteries. When I started—we started—to investigate Helen Cavanaugh’s death, it opened a Pandora’s box. Little did I know I would put your job and my life in danger. You risked a lot for me, Marty. I hope you know how much I appreciate it.”
“I was happy to help. You were like a terrier with a sock in its mouth. Nothing was going to stop you.”
“Unraveling the secret of what happened here in the Cavanaugh House was mystery enough to last a lifetime. All I want is a boring, ordinary life. Ordinary—just like me.”
“You are anything but ordinary, bella.” Marty smiled at her. His face turned serious. “Besides, you did unravel the mystery and brought a killer to justice.”
“I could never have done it without you. Remember that night we broke into the archive room at the courthouse?”
“I’ll never forget it. We had a close call there.” He laughed, then looked away.
She touched his arm. “You could have lost your job. You did all of that for me. Thank you.”
“Hey, bella, that’s what friends do for friends. I’ve got to get back to work. You sure you’re okay?” Marty drained his coffee cup and set it in the sink.
She nodded, straightening the dummy’s wig. “Yeah. Harriet here is going to sleep on the couch tonight. I’ll take her in to St. Bart’s and see if Sister Therese wants to follow up with this since it’s apparently connected to the school.”
“Like I said, mysteries seem to follow you around.” Marty rubbed the back of his neck. “Look, kiddo, I’ve gotta get back to my shift. Let me know if Harriet sits up and starts talking to you during the night.”
Jesse grimaced. “Ugh, don’t even say that. Too many weird things have happened to me already. Yeah, I’ve got to call it a night, too. School begins bright and early tomorrow. Earlier now that I have to sneak Harriet in before the girls finish breakfast and start heading over to the school building. I wonder what Sister Therese will make of this?”
“I’ll escort Harriet to her bed.” He lifted the dummy, carried it to the living room, and plopped it on the couch.
“Let me know what you find out. Looks like an end-of-summer prank to me.” Marty wrangled his hat over his mop of hair as he headed down the hall. She followed and lifted his drenched poncho from the hook near the front door to hand to him.
“Thanks for your help, Marty.”
“Sure, Jess. Anytime.”
He pulled the poncho over his head and opened the door.
“Be safe out there,” she said, patting his arm.
He turned and winked at her. “You be safe in here, Nancy Drew.” He nodded toward the living room and laughed.
She locked the door behind him and returned to the living room where the form stretched across the couch, legs immodestly spread, arms extended in either direction.
“Why do I feel like I need to get you a blanket and pillow?” Jesse said to the figure. She turned off the lamp and headed back to the kitchen. “Good night. Oh, geez, I’m talking to a damn dummy.”
Pre-order your copy of Buried Secrets today at Amazon!
Haven’t read The Cavanaugh House yet? You can order that book at Amazon today, too!