The New York Times
Rituals of the Season (Deborah Knott Series #11)by Margaret Maron
- "High Country Fall, Margaret Maron's most recent installment in the Deborah Knott series, was published in Mysterious Press hardcover in 8/04, with a first printing of 40,000 copies.- Margaret Maron swept the top mystery awards with her first Deborah Knott hardcover, "Bootlegger's Daughter (Mysterious Press, 1992), receiving the Edgar1 Award for Best Mystery Novel,… See more details below
- "High Country Fall, Margaret Maron's most recent installment in the Deborah Knott series, was published in Mysterious Press hardcover in 8/04, with a first printing of 40,000 copies.- Margaret Maron swept the top mystery awards with her first Deborah Knott hardcover, "Bootlegger's Daughter (Mysterious Press, 1992), receiving the Edgar1 Award for Best Mystery Novel, the Agatha Award, the Macavity, and the Anthony. She also won a 1992 Agatha Award for the short story that introduced the character of Deborah Knott, and later, she received the Agatha Award for Best Novel for "Up Jumps the Devil (Mysterious Press, 1996). Maron was nominated for an Agatha Award for "Home Fires (Mysterious Press, 1998), and most recently, "Storm Track (Mysterious Press, 2000) won the Agatha Award for Best Novel. "Last Lessons of Summer (Mysterious Press, 2003), was also nominated for an Agatha Award.- "Last Lessons of Summer, Slow Dollar, and Uncommon Clay were all selected as Mystery Guild Main Selections.
The New York Times
Read an Excerpt
Rituals of the Season
By Margaret Maron
WARNER BOOKSCopyright © 2005 Margaret Maron
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePunctuality is the mark of politeness.
Florence Hartley, The Ladies' Book of Etiquette, 1873
I had adjourned court a little early that bleak December afternoon after taking care of everything I could without a prosecutor (the assistant DA had a late doctor's appointment), but I'd heard that the party outlet in Makely sold inexpensive wedding favors and, yeah, yeah, with less than two weeks till the big day, you'd think I would have already taken care of every detail worth mentioning.
Having avoided it for this long, I was now so hooked on this whole wedding thing that I was like a junkie who needs just one more fix. Although my sisters-in-law didn't know it, what I planned to wear was already hidden in an empty closet at Aunt Zell's house, along with my shoes, gloves, and the dark red velvet cloak that would ward off December's chilly winds going to and from the First Baptist Church over in Dobbs. (That the hooded cloak flattered the hell out of my dark blond coloring was purely incidental.) My bouquet had been ordered. The country club had been booked for a simple champagne reception, the gold band I would place on Dwight Bryant's finger had been engraved and entrusted to Portland Brewer, my matron of honor, and when I left home that morning, I wascompletely caught up on all my thank-you notes. (One good thing about a Christmas wedding is that greeting cards can do double duty.)
The only item lacking was the little bride and groom for the cake. And trust me, I do know they're tacky and not exactly cutting edge, but my bossy, opinionated family wouldn't feel it was a real wedding cake if I only had rosebuds and ribbon icing. I'd ordered a cake topper off the Internet-one in which the groom was dressed in a formal blue police uniform-but it still hadn't come. Kate Bryant, Dwight's artistic sister-in-law, had volunteered to paint the uniform brown like the one Dwight would be wearing and to change the bridal gown, too, but she was going to need a couple of days to work her magic and one of my own sisters-in-law had suggested I might could find something suitable at the Makely store.
"Sorry," said the clerk. "You should have tried us back in the spring."
"Back in the spring, I didn't know I was going to need one," I told her.
At that point, I should have walked out of the store and headed straight back to Dobbs, but I saw so many cool stocking stuffers for my numerous nieces and nephews that I completely lost track of the time. It didn't help that traffic on the interstate was so backed up by an accident or something that I got off at the next exit and had to negotiate unfamiliar back roads.
"Dammit, Deb'rah, where've you been?" growled my groom-to-be when I pulled into a slot in front of his apartment well after dark and nearly ninety minutes later than I'd promised when we talked at noon.
Dwight Bryant and I first met on the day I was born-he remembers it; I don't-but until three months ago I'd always thought of him as just another of my eleven older brothers. Surprised the hell out of me when pragmatic lust abruptly morphed into a romantic love as fiery and all-consuming as a Nora Roberts novel, especially when Dwight confessed that he'd been hiding his true feelings for me behind his honorary-brother role for years.
Doesn't stop him from still yelling at me like one of my brothers, though. Bareheaded, no jacket, he was pacing back and forth on the windswept landing in front of his second-floor apartment when I got there, and he made it down the steps before I could get my keys out of the ignition.
I tried to explain about court finishing early and how I then got sidetracked by Christmas shopping and after that, the traffic so that-
He didn't want to hear it. "And you couldn't call? Or remember to switch your phone on so I could call you?"
I admitted that I'd absentmindedly left my phone in the pocket of my robe, which was now hanging in an office at the Makely courthouse, but he caught me in his arms and held me tightly against him as if to make sure that I was whole and unharmed. For such a big guy, he can be surprisingly gentle. His hands and cheeks were like ice. Felt good, though, and my body started to throb and buzz until I realized that part of the vibration came from the cell phone hooked on his belt.
With one arm still around me, he unclipped the phone, checked to see who it was, and said, "Yeah, Faye?"
I didn't hear what the dispatcher was saying, but there was nothing ambiguous about his reply. "Tell them to disregard that BOLO. She's here now."
I couldn't believe it. He'd done a be-on-the-lookout for me?
I twisted away from his arm, grabbed the small bag of groceries from the front seat of my car, and stormed up the stairs to his apartment.
"That was totally uncalled for," I said angrily, when Dwight finally followed me inside. I had flung my coat across the back of his couch and now I was slamming cupboard doors as I pulled out pots and pans.
"I haven't accounted to anyone since I was eighteen," I told him, "and I'll be damned if I'm going to start toeing some imaginary mark now just because we're getting married."
He closed the door quietly against the chill December night and stood there white-faced, staring at me, until I finally realized that he had probably spent the past hour remembering how close I came to dying the last time I didn't answer my cell phone for five hours.
I let go of my anger and went to him.
"Hey," I said softly, standing on tiptoe to brush his lips with mine. "Nothing's going to happen to me ever again. I'm going to be here safe and sound for the rest of your life, but not if you try to keep me in bubble wrap, okay?"
"I wish to God I could," he said and kissed me with such vehemence that I knew something bad had happened.
"What is it?" I asked. "What else did Faye tell you?"
"That traffic backup you ran into on the interstate just now? It was Tracy Johnson. She smashed into an overpass."
"What? Is she okay?"
He shook his head. "Sounds like she died instantly."
I stood there with my mouth open. Brisk, efficient Tracy Johnson? The tall and slender ADA who loves high heels as much as I do and who tries to hide her beauty and brains behind the ugliest pair of horn-rim glasses in eastern North Carolina?
"I just saw her," I protested. "She prosecuted today's calendar."
"I'm sorry, shug," he said.
"What about Mei?" I asked. "Tracy left court early because Mei had a doctor's appointment for an ear infection."
"She was in the car, too. They're going to air-vac her to Chapel Hill, but it doesn't sound good."
Three years ago, Tracy got tired of waiting around for a man who wasn't intimidated by her height or her mind and decided to adopt from China. It had taken her two years to complete all the paperwork, and she was utterly besotted by the baby, who was just beginning to walk and talk. Portland and I and some of the women from the DA's office had given her a shower once the adoption went through.
She was a few years younger and we were never hugely close, but I did respect her. She was an excellent prosecutor, efficient, prepared, and fairer than most who just want the win, no matter what.
"Does Doug know?" I asked. Doug Woodall is our district attorney and Tracy's boss.
"Doubt it," Dwight said. "They just ID'd her and family takes precedence. Did she have any?"
"I'm not sure. I know her parents are dead, but I think she has a sister or brother over in Widdington. Or maybe it was a cousin that came to her shower when she brought Mei home from China this spring."
Tears spilled down my cheeks and my heart was sore just thinking about that poor little baby. Unwanted by her birth mother, now she'd lost the adoptive mother who adored her. What would happen to her?
Dwight's cell phone buzzed again. "Yeah, Faye?"
His face went even grimmer as he listened, then he said, "Give me the coordinates again. And call Jamison and Denning. Tell them to meet me there."
Jack Jamison's one of the new detectives he's training and Percy Denning is Colleton County's crime scene specialist.
"What now?" I asked as he holstered his gun and reached for the heavy winter jacket hanging on a peg by the door.
"The wreck wasn't an accident," he said. "The EMTs say Tracy was shot."
"Shot?" All sorts of wild possibilities tumbled through my mind. I tried to think what was in season now. "Tracy died because some dumb hunter wasn't paying attention?"
Dwight shrugged. "The ROs say it looks like a deliberate act."
"Won't know till I get there, shug." He zipped his jacket, gave me a quick kiss and was gone.
Excerpted from Rituals of the Season by Margaret Maron Copyright © 2005 by Margaret Maron. Excerpted by permission.
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