Conspiracy of Silenceby Martha Powers
On a sunny day in July, Clare Prentice arrives in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Although she is on assignment to interview the town's notoriously reclusive novelist Nate Hanssen, Clare is really in search of a different story-her story.Just months before, Clare was a bride-to-be, living in Chicago, and looking to the future.until the day she learned her entire life had
On a sunny day in July, Clare Prentice arrives in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Although she is on assignment to interview the town's notoriously reclusive novelist Nate Hanssen, Clare is really in search of a different story-her story.Just months before, Clare was a bride-to-be, living in Chicago, and looking to the future.until the day she learned her entire life had been a lie.Not only was Clare adopted, but there is no record that she or her adoptive mother ever existed. The only clue is a class ring from Grand Rapids Senior High School. Unable to get on with her future until she reconciles her past, Clare breaks off her engagement.Unraveling the mystery is like trying to sculpt fog-until the first piece of the puzzle unexpectedly drops into place: Clare's birth mother, Lily Gundersen, was murdered in Grand Rapids.Lily's murder was one of the most talked-about events in the town's history, but no one is talking now. Clare doesn't know the whole story - and someone intends to keep it that way.
When Clare Prentice, a Chicago journalist, discovers she's adopted in this cozy romantic thriller from Powers (Death Angel), she's disturbed enough to call off her impending wedding. The high school ring of her adoptive mother, who died two years earlier and was careful to keep Clare's true origin a secret, provides a clue that takes Clare to Grand Rapids, Minn., where she conveniently has an assignment to interview a reclusive novelist, Nate Hanssen. The pace picks up after Clare discovers that her birth mother, Lily Gundersen, was murdered in Grand Rapids. Clare becomes the target of a killer intent on silencing anyone who knows the real story behind Lily's untimely death. Meanwhile, a subtle romance develops between Clare and Nate. Full of red herrings, this suspense novel will appeal to those who also like traditional whodunits. (Nov.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Read an Excerpt
Conspiracy of Silence
By Martha Powers
Oceanview PublishingCopyright © 2008 Martha Powers
All rights reserved.
An hour after leaving the expressway for a series of two-lane asphalt highways, Clare Prentice drove through an opening in the trees above Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Accustomed to the bustling life of Chicago, she had been apprehensive about her arrival in such an isolated area. The picturesque view of the houses nestled along the shoreline and the businesses lining the edges of a park came as a pleasant surprise.
She drove slowly down the hill, pulling into a parking space in the center of the town. Her hands gripped the steering wheel as she stared through the windshield at her surroundings.
The park was a lovely rectangle facing the lake. A roped off section of water indicated the swimming area and on the sand was a tall wooden lifeguard platform with white slatted chairs, red and white buoys, and a Jet Ski anchored at the shoreline. Brick walkways crisscrossed the park. Benches, a fountain, and a small playground added to a sense of tranquility and peace.
The main street ran in a U-shape along three sides of the park. At the east end was the City Hall and the police station, combined in a venerable but well-kept building. Beds of red, white, and hot pink impatiens softened the otherwise austere exterior of the beige brick. Stores and office buildings faced the lake and at the west end of the park was the Grand Rapids Public Library.
Clare rolled down the car window, smiling at the sound of the children playing on the beach. The water looked inviting after her long drive. She'd considered flying but had decided to drive and enjoy the changing scenery as she drove north. When she left, it had been hot in Chicago, but the end of July was much more pleasant in northern Minnesota.
Nothing looked familiar.
Until that moment Clare hadn't realized how much she had counted on some sign of familiarity, a sense of déjà vu perhaps, which would indicate she had come home. She closed her eyes and focused on the rise and fall of her abdomen as she concentrated on her breathing. Her fingers loosened their grip on the steering wheel and the muscles across her back relaxed against the car seat.
And so it begins, she thought as she got out of the car and stared up at the library. The building was massive, towering over everything else. It was a square, three-story building with triangular front sections on each side. On the second floor, rounded window arches flanked each central section on the four sides. The reddish beige brick glowed warmly in the summer sun and the darker trim between floors and around the windows made each feature stand out distinctly. All in all, a most impressive building.
She brushed the travel wrinkles from her denim skirt as she walked through the park. The early afternoon sun pressed against the blue and white checked blouse. The breeze off the lake was welcome, cooling the sweat on her neck beneath the French braid. Every summer she swore she'd cut her hair, but somehow she put up with the inconvenience.
Doug had loved her long hair.
Her sandal caught on the rough surface of the brick sidewalk and she stumbled. She settled her purse strap more securely on her shoulder and glanced at her hand. Even though it had been two months since she'd broken her engagement, there was still a faint band of white around her finger. Perhaps as the mark faded, so would her misery.
Taking a deep breath, she straightened her shoulders and walked up the stone steps to the wide double doors.
Despite the old-fashioned look of the exterior, the inside was wholly modern. The interior walls had been replaced by glass partitions so that from the doorway, she could see into most of the rooms on the main floor. A wide stairway curved leisurely to the second floor. The loft area was open to view through spindled balustrades. Over the central foyer, mobiles of all shapes and sizes were suspended from the ceiling.
The soles of her sandals slapped softly as she crossed the cream-colored marble floor. A teenaged boy looked up expectantly from behind the information desk.
"I have an appointment with Mrs. Grabenbauer," Clare said.
The boy opened his mouth, but before he could speak, his eyes darted over Clare's shoulder. She turned to find a tall, white-haired woman bearing down on her.
"You must be Clare," the woman said, extending her hand. "One thirty. On the dot. I consider the courtesy of promptness a reflection of character. We should get along famously."
Since she knew Mrs. Grabenbauer was well into her seventies, Clare was surprised at the sprightly look of youth in the inquisitive blue eyes studying her. The woman's hand was softer than calfskin, the handshake firm and brief.
"Your directions left me with little chance to get lost. MapQuest couldn't have done any better."
There was a moment of silence as Mrs. Grabenbauer continued to eye her. Then as if satisfied, she turned on her heel and beckoned Clare to follow her toward the back of the library. They passed a row of offices until they came to a lounge area behind a glass-paneled door.
"Perhaps you'd like some iced tea while we chat a bit." Without waiting for an answer, Mrs. Grabenbauer pulled out a chair beside a small luncheon table. "Sit here and I'll get it."
Clare followed orders, grateful to have a moment to observe the woman who would be her landlady for the next few weeks. Although Clare was tall, Mrs. Grabenbauer towered over her. Six feet, was Clare's guess. Her figure was rather top heavy with wide shoulders, long arms, and a very full bosom. Despite her build, she moved with a stately grace, actions and gestures precise.
"Do you take lemon, sugar, or milk?"
"Just lemon," Clare said, reaching out for the glass of tea.
Mrs. Grabenbauer carried her own glass and a dish of lemon slices to the table. "Now tell me. How is my favorite niece Gail?"
"Since she's my best friend," Clare said, "I also know she's your only niece."
"Busted." Mrs. Grabenbauer let out a deep throaty chuckle. "I'm sorry my brother didn't have a dozen more like her. Bright, articulate, and full of fun."
"Despite Gail's working too many hours at the clinic, she still manages to out-party me on the weekends. I hope she told you that she's leaving next week for a vacation in Hawaii."
"Yes. We had a lovely talk on the phone." Mrs. Grabenbauer spoke briskly as if she'd decided it was time to end the social chitchat and get down to business. "I hadn't heard from her for a while and then she called to say she had a friend who needed a place to stay for a week or two and wanted to know if my guest cottage was empty. I'd had several offers this summer, but no one I felt comfortable renting to."
"I really appreciate your letting me take it on such short notice. Gail's pretty hard to resist when she gets an idea." Clare grinned. "I hope she didn't badger you on my behalf."
"Nothing I couldn't handle." The dry tone was in sharp contrast to the twinkle in her eyes. "She said you had gotten an interview with our local recluse Nate Hanssen. How did you manage that?"
"I work for a literary magazine in Chicago. Mr. Hanssen was the featured author at a fund-raiser for literacy that my editor attended. Apparently they hit it off and, even though he usually refuses to do interviews, he agreed to do this one."
"So that's why you've come to Grand Rapids?" she asked. "Somehow Gail made it sound more mysterious than that. I realize she has a tendency to be dramatic, but she said you'd explain everything when you got here."
For a moment Clare was silent, wondering what to say. She opened her mouth but no words came out. Taking a deep steadying breath, she tried again.
"I need your help to find out who I am." Clare could understand the surprise on Mrs. Grabenbauer's face because she was just as stunned by her own words. "I'm sorry for blurting that out. That's not what I intended to say."
Clare sat quietly as the older woman took a drink of her tea, studying her over the rim of the glass. She could feel the heat rise to her cheeks and knew that she was blushing. The awkward silence was broken when Mrs. Grabenbauer set her glass down with a sharp tap on the wooden table.
"First of all, Clare, I'd like it if you would call me Ruth. Since we will be neighbors for a while." She smiled at Clare's nod of acceptance. "Sometimes it is difficult to explain things and blurting them out, as you put it, is the best way. Since I now have an idea where we're heading perhaps you'd like to start at the beginning."
"My mother died two years ago." Try as she might, the emotions that she had experienced in the last several months surged. She swallowed several times and then she said, "Five months ago I discovered I was adopted."
Clare thought she had gotten used to the idea, but her throat closed and she was unable to continue. She took several sips of tea while she pulled herself together. Ruth leaned across the table and patted her arm.
"You had no idea?"
"None." Clare shook her head. "The doctor who told me thought I knew, since it had always been in my medical file. My mother, Rose, told the doctor when she first brought me to see her."
"Strange that your mother would tell the doctor and yet not tell you."
"Rose was thirty when I was born. I never questioned the fact that she loved me, but she was not a demonstrative sort of woman. Very private."
"But after she died, you must have had access to all her papers."
"Yes. There was the house and her will. Everything came to me. My name was on everything. Mother kept a very Spartan household. I used to tease her that we could be packed and out of town at a moment's notice." Clare laughed but it was not a humorous sound. "Now I begin to wonder if that wasn't partially true."
Although there was a question in Ruth's eyes, she didn't ask for an immediate explanation. "Birth certificate?"
Clare pushed her chair back and rose to her feet. She walked across to the window and looked out at the park. It was still hard to talk about something that hurt so badly.
"I had one. There were several notarized copies in her safety deposit box. It said I was her child. If she had adopted me legally in Chicago, the official birth certificate would show that she was the mother. When I began checking the details, I couldn't find verification for any of the information on it. The hospital listed had no record of my mother and none of my being born there. On the day listed as my birth date, three children were born. All three were boys."
"Well, that bites."
The slang term amused Clare and she turned back toward Ruth. She could read the empathy on the older woman's face, and smiled through a sheen of tears.
"You're damn right it does."
"Anger is good, my dear. As the shrinks say, 'it's all a process.' Oftentimes there's truth in the most banal of psychobabble. I'm assuming there were no adoption papers."
"Could you trace back through your mother's information?"
Clare shook her head. She paced to the sink and back again. She felt better moving around. Her emotions about what had happened in the last few months had been bottled up. It was strange how comfortable she felt speaking to Gail's aunt.
"My mother's name was Rose Prentice. The birth certificate listed her date of birth and said she was born in Park Ridge, Illinois. When I checked into that, I couldn't find any record for that date or name. It was as if neither my mother nor I existed."
"It's funny, but when you're a kid there's so much you don't question. It just is. We had no actual family in the Chicago area. I called your brother, 'Uncle Owen,' but I knew he wasn't a relative. Gail and her brothers were like cousins so I really never felt any lack of family."
"Your mother must have had friends you could talk to."
"Not really. My mother didn't socialize much. She went to PTA meetings and knew people at church and work, but there was no one you would consider a close friend. At the time it didn't seem strange. It's only now when I look back I begin to see how isolated she was."
"I didn't find one. Since my father was dead, their anniversary was never celebrated so I really had no idea when or where she was married."
"When did your father die?"
"Mother said he died in a train accident when I was three. No details, just said he was dead." Clare could feel her mouth tighten at the words. "It wasn't that she made it seem like a secret. If she had, I might have been more curious. It was just a fact. Mother never talked about the past. When I asked her about her childhood, she said it was boring and changed the subject."
"Didn't that seem unusual?" Ruth asked.
"No. Mother wasn't very talkative."
"I know people like that," Ruth said, "and I've watched how my niece and her brothers interacted with their parents. A child gets a sense that a subject is off limits. It's one of those nonverbal signals that always intrigues me. I never had children so my knowledge comes solely from my observations."
"Gail said you were very perceptive."
"That's because I spoiled her. That's the joy of being an aunt. None of the annoyances of raising children. When they misbehave, you just pack up their bags and send them home. And if they grow up to be bright, articulate adults it's an added bonus in your life."
Ruth paused and stared across at Clare.
"Did it occur to you that you might be Rose's illegitimate daughter and she just told the doctor you were adopted to cover her shame?"
Clare nodded. "Actually that was my original thought. It would have explained why she changed her name and said my father was dead. I asked the doctor about that possibility and she went through my mother's medical files. She had had a miscarriage, but had never had a live birth."
There was silence for a moment, and then Ruth asked, "So why have you come to Grand Rapids?"
"I think my adoptive mother might have lived here." Clare opened her purse and took out a picture in a small wooden frame. "This is a picture of my mother. I only have a few. She didn't like having her picture taken."
She set it on the table in front of Ruth.
"Gail said you were born and raised here in Grand Rapids. Does she look familiar at all?"
"I only lived here in Grand Rapids until my parents divorced. Then I moved to Duluth with my mother. My brother stayed here with my father. Except for occasional visits, I didn't come back here until after my husband died ten years ago."
Ruth picked up the frame and concentrated on the face of the woman in the picture. She pursed her lips, then sighed and shook her head.
"I don't believe I've ever seen her before. You think she was from Grand Rapids?"
"She might have gone to school here." Clare reached into the pocket of her denim skirt and brought out a plastic bag. "When I went through her jewelry box, I found this."
She opened the bag, placing a ring on the table in front of Ruth.
"It's a class ring from Grand Rapids Senior High School. At first I thought of Michigan, but when I did some research I found it was Grand Rapids, Minnesota."
Ruth picked up the gold ring with the gold Indian in profile, turning it from side to side to examine it.
"Nineteen sixty-two. My brother went to Grand Rapids, but he graduated five years earlier," she said.
"Gail's father? The judge?"
"Yes," Ruth said. "And in nineteen sixty-two, I was thirty, married for six years, and living in Duluth. Lordy where does the time go? So you think this was your mother's ring?"
Clare shook her head. "According to my mother's birth certificate, she would have been fifty-nine this year. She would have graduated in nineteen sixty-five or nineteen sixty-six. If the ring is hers, then she might be four years older. To me she always seemed old. To look at Rose you wouldn't be able to guess her age."
"So it could be hers." Ruth placed the ring on her finger. It was too large. "But at a guess I'd say it was a man's ring."
"Mother had large hands," Clare said, her voice defensive.
Ruth looked inside the band of the ring. "There are no initials or serial numbers to give a clue as to ownership. Without one or the other, we couldn't trace it through the manufacturer."
Clare sat down at the table again, staring in dismay at the ring in the palm of Ruth's hand. "It's the only clue I have."
Excerpted from Conspiracy of Silence by Martha Powers. Copyright © 2008 Martha Powers. Excerpted by permission of Oceanview Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Martha Powers is an award-winning author, sought-after speaker, and humorist. She is the author of nine Regency novels and two thrillers published by Simon and Schuster. Her latest novel, Death Angel (Oceanview) was named a finalist in both the Royal Palm Literary Awards, and National Best Books 2006 Awards, and was selected as a Book Sense Pick. Martha lives in Vero Beach, Florida.
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