Monday, April 24, 2017

Week #17: Enigma of Fire by Marilyn Leach

As the season of Pentecost approaches, Berdie Elliott's husband, the vicar for the Aidan Kirkwood village prepares for the Whitsun Long Weekend Regatta boat race. But one amongst them is in a van explosion that puts Berdie right in it. The shock of the blast sends her whirling and when the Yard arrives, fingers point to a profiled suspect that ignites village fears. Who would think that business vans, one heroic dog, mistaken identity, an evocative book, and enduring friendships could help solve the crime? Berdie must recapture her investigative brilliance, sift the ashes, and ascertain who is responsible. Will the enigma of fire be laid bare? This mystery sizzles.

1st Chapter:

“Sometimes it feels the sweeping hands of that clock are wrapped round my toes and squeezing.”

The kitchen aroma of a well-prepared meal tickled Berdie Elliott’s nose as she placed decorated picnic ware in the ample food hamper, whilst aching feet reminded her that she hadn’t had a sit-down since early this morning.

“I tell you,” she said to her friend, Lillie Foxworth, who added folded linens to the plates, “sometimes it takes all one possesses to keep up.”

“True,” Lillie mumbled.

“When I followed my dear Hugh into the pastorate after his military retirement”—Berdie took a deep breath—“and I came with the same commitment of faith and service, mind you, I hadn’t reckoned that I’d be a hostel hostess in a small English village, racing the clock to feed the five thousand at Whitsun.”

“Oh, but remember, Berdie,” Lillie ribbed with a large grin and hazel-green eyes dancing, “to be hospitable at all times is a grace. You could be entertaining angels unawares.”

Berdie waggled a fork toward her friend. “Night wanderings, unwelcomed pets, demanding diets: if the guests staying here are angels, I should think their halos have slipped slightly.”

“Come now, Berdie.” Lillie took the fork from Berdie’s hand. “I’ve not noticed five thousand, just nine people at last count, and it’s a picnic al fresco at the lake, not the village fete.”

“You’re such a stickler about minor details.”

Lillie put the fork next to the others in the utensil basket and surveyed the situation. “There’s no room in the hamper for the main dish.”

“You see? Stickler for details.” Berdie chuckled and Lillie joined her. “Take out the jar of pickled onions to make room. It’s quite clear, Lillie, where our nattering gets us.”

The sound of the vicarage front door chime sang out its plea for attention.

“Oh bother,” flew from Berdie’s lips.

“Ah, angels have come knocking. The word’s out all cross the heavens,” Lillie shouted as Berdie left the kitchen. “There’s a room going spare at the vicarage and food to be had.”

Berdie chortled while she hustled through the front hall.

She arrived at the pub mirror, placed just alongside the door, and glanced at herself. Middle age had been kind to her, but she hoped her brown eyes didn’t appear as tired as she felt at the moment. She pushed an errant piece of her red-brown bobbed hair to its appropriate place, adjusted her tortoiseshell glasses, wiped her hand cross the ditsy designs of her apron that covered her more-pudgy-than-lean body, turned with steady mind for whatever may greet her, and flung the vicarage door open.

There before her stood Milton Butz, the inevitable dots of maturing adolescence decorating his fourteen-year-old face, and behind, his tall, ginger-haired friend, Kevin McDermott. Hardly heavenly beings.

“Milton, Kevin, hello,” Berdie greeted.

“That big dog is running all over the village again, Mrs. Elliott.” Milton released a slight pant.

“He’s been digging in Mrs. Hall’s herb garden, again.” Kevin’s round eyes held an element of panic as he took a deep breath. “And he’s scary.”

Berdie wanted to shout, “That annoying canine escape artist is more trouble than he’s worth, and seeing as he belongs to retired Leftenant Commander Cedric Royce, just one of our ‘angelic’ guests, the commander can ruddy well chase about after it.” But instead, she offered a more refined response that was in line with her position and wouldn’t shower the boys with her displeasure. “The dog’s name is Sparks, and he’s quite”—Berdie searched for a constructive word—“energetic for an animal his size and difficult to contain.”

“He doesn’t seem very friendly either,” Kevin added.

“He’s not a lap dog, no.”

Milton’s barrel chest rose and fell—the boys had obviously rushed. “Do you want us to collect him?”

“Milty.” Kevin’s eyes grew wider, and he kicked the back of Milton’s shoe.

“He’s just a dog.” Milton’s demeanor was fearless.

“Thanks for the offer, lads, but I believe Leftenant Commander Royce is at the Upland Arms enjoying a swift half. Perhaps you could fetch him and let him deal with the beast.”

“Beast?” Kevin’s cheeks flushed under the freckles.

Milton looked slightly disappointed. “Are you sure you don’t want us to try to collect Sparks?”

Kevin’s eyebrows knit into a deep frown.


Thanks for joining in the fun with this sneak peak at Enigma of Fire. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing. The winner will be announced on Monday, May 1.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Week #16: Sunrise at Honeysuckle Cove by Mary Manners


Honeysuckle Cove Inn has been in the Brennan family for three generations. When Maggie Brennan’s parents retire, they call her home to Honeysuckle Cove and hand over the reins of the historical inn. If Maggie successfully maintains the business over the course of a year, the inn is hers forever. Maggie considers the timing perfect, with one exception—she finds her path entangled once again with that of Dylan O’Connor.

Dylan has made a name for himself as the go-to guy when it comes to renovations and repairs in Honeysuckle Cove, and he’s waited nearly a decade for high school sweetheart Maggie Brennan to return home. But his handyman skills will be put to the test when it comes to rebuilding the bridge between Maggie’s heart and his, and designing a future…together.


1st Chapter:

Maggie Brennan tossed her overnight bag across one shoulder and slammed the door of her SUV. Her belly skipped with excitement and a jumble of nerves as she turned toward Honeysuckle Cove Inn. Her breath caught at the Victorian structure perched along an undulating knoll, its sweeping wrap around porch and turn-of-the-century style back-dropped by sun-dappled breakers of Wanderlust Lake. Whitewashed wood encased panels of glass that shimmered beneath late afternoon light, while a regal spire soared three stories to kiss the winter sky.
The rooms inside were filled with countless legends and stories that had grown throughout the years. Maggie wondered how many more tales might be woven over the coming months. The thought sent her pulse into a barrel roll.
Easy there, Maggie…pull it together. You can do this.
A light breeze ruffled her hair and whispered beneath the collar of her cotton shirt as she made her way up the winding walk. She shivered and gathered the overnight bag to her chest like a shield, wishing she’d thought to grab a sweater from one of the many suitcases and boxes piled in the SUV’s trunk and stacked across the backseat. She’d forgotten how cool January afternoons could be in East Tennessee. Not hard to do, since it had been several winters since she’d come home.
But an unexpected phone call from her mother had changed everything.
“Dad and I are heading south to the coast for the foreseeable future, Maggie. Surely the warm weather will soothe relentless aches that have worsened in your father’s battle with arthritis. The inn is yours. It’s too much for us to manage now, and it pains me to say we’ve really let things slide over the past year or so. Coaxing it back to life won’t be easy, but we know you have never shied away from a challenge…”
Maggie drew in a breath. With her sister Candice gone, the task of rescuing the family’s inn fell solely upon her shoulders. Her parents were right—she rarely shied from a challenge. But there had been one situation she’d run away from many moons ago. It remained the reason she hadn’t returned to the cove for more than a handful of days here and there since she’d graduated college and moved west.
And on those occasions she’d popped in for a visit, she’d done her best to stay put along the grounds of the inn, enjoying time with her parents and the beauty of the landscape while avoiding any chance of running into the one person she wanted least to see—Dylan O’Connor.
But the lure of the inn with all its intrigue and history…the many fond childhood memories that danced through her dreams when she lay her head against a pillow at night…made it impossible to stay gone any longer. Despite the fact that living twenty-four/seven in a small town like Honeysuckle Cove would make it much harder to avoid Dylan, she considered her parents’ offer to rejuvenate and manage the inn a blessing in disguise.
Who was she kidding? Considering recent disasters in both her work and personal life, their offer proved an answer to her prayers.
Except for Dylan…and the still-raw memories of her sister Candice, as well.
Maggie forced the thoughts from her mind before they had time to bloom. There was work to be done, and no time to waste energy on recent failures or regrets from the past.
The scent of honeysuckle drifted, drawing Maggie’s attention to a tangle of flowerbeds surrounding the inn and gardens. Broken pavers lined what once served as a walkway to the rear patio and lakeshore beyond, while unseasonably heavy rains had washed away layers of mulch, leaving trenches of dirt in their wake.
Maggie shook her head and heaved a sigh. Mom hadn’t been kidding when she said she and Dad had let things go. It would take a small army to put things to right. Not very promising, since she proved a lone soldier.
Refusing to be deterred, she made a mental note to launch an attack on the mess as soon as she had her bearings. She’d have to get moving if she planned to stick to the rigid schedule she’d outlined. Her parents hadn’t booked a guest room in more than six months and the inn’s business account now straddled the fence between operating in the black and plunging into red. But Maggie planned to start taking reservations just as soon as she had things in order again. She’d revitalize one room at a time, and also open the dining area to local dinner patrons as soon as the revamped website and a workable menu—as well as adequate staff—were up and running.
Which circled ’round to the fact that she’d need to hire a chef…and a landscaper…and possibly even a carpenter or handyman to help with simple—and not so simple—repairs.
Again she considered Dylan. He was the best carpenter she knew. Too bad she couldn’t call on him now. It would make things so much easier.
And so much more difficult.
Maggie’s belly blanched. So many things to consider. The enormity of the tasks that faced her threatened to wash over her like a tsunami, taking her prisoner if she allowed them to.
So she would keep her chin up and stand tall. She’d focus on first things first. The once-beautiful gardens tumbled with a graveyard of untended plants and tangled weeds. It wouldn’t do well to have visitors arrive to such unkempt grounds. And pulling weeds was a task she could manage on her own. She’d found digging in the dirt to be cathartic…at least when she was eight years old.
Clean-up would take some elbow grease, but all was not lost. As she neared the porch, a closer look at the flowerbeds proved that buried beneath the weeds a flurry of honeysuckle bushes lay dormant, their sleepy buds curled against the cold, waiting patiently for spring. Maggie imagined after so many countless seasons drenched in blooms, the inn itself had taken on the sweet scent that seemed to linger like a spirit, drawing its warm, fruity bouquet into the inn’s wood and fabric.
Even now, the inn sighed and whispered, welcoming Maggie home. The thought made her smile as she reached the front steps.
Suddenly a deafening screech ripped the air. Maggie tripped and stumbled. She clutched the stair rail and waited a beat for her heart to jig back into rhythm. What on earth…?
The earsplitting whine died and then wailed…died and wailed in a rhythmic assault to her eardrums. It took a moment for the realization to dawn that the brain-numbing sound came from inside the inn. She tilted her head and peered up toward the third floor of the spire. A shadow crossed the window and she zeroed in, studying the rangy figure that moved with an unmistakable, languid swagger. Her brain struggled to process information. It couldn’t be…it wasn’t…
No way. The inn was supposed to be empty—especially from the likes of Dylan O’Connor.
Maggie’s spine turned to steel as she climbed the porch steps and paused at the front door. She toed a worn welcome mat and found the keys her mother had tucked there waiting beneath. She bent, clutched them in her fist, and quickly realized there was no need for them as the door stood unlocked and more than slightly ajar.
It was just like Dylan to waste good money letting a steady stream of frigid winter air into the house.
She gave the door a shove, then dropped her bag in the hallway. Familiar scents of warm cedar, cinnamon-hazelnut coffee, and oak logs piled beside the fireplace conjured memories, while force of habit had her padding through the living room and past the library to a winding staircase that led to the third floor. She attacked the staircase, her heart thrumming with each footstep.
When the stairway opened to the third floor landing, she couldn’t believe her eyes.
There he stood—Dylan O’Connor—leaned over a pair of sawhorses with his back to her as he waged battle with a circular saw against a length of two-by-four.
The day had just become much, much more difficult.


Thanks for stopping by for a sneak peek at Sunrise at Honeysuckle Cove. Please leave a comment to be entered into the drawing for a free copy. The winner will be announced on Monday, Aril 24. Good Luck!