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Steps to the Altar (Benni Harper Series #9)

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Ninth in the Agatha Award-winning series that's been hailed as engrossing, Steps to the Altar finds California folk art expert Benni Harper preparing for two upcoming weddings, digging up clues to a decades-old unsolved murder-and struggling with a very personal crisis of the heart...
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Overview


Ninth in the Agatha Award-winning series that's been hailed as engrossing, Steps to the Altar finds California folk art expert Benni Harper preparing for two upcoming weddings, digging up clues to a decades-old unsolved murder-and struggling with a very personal crisis of the heart...
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Could Benni Harper's life be any more hectic? As she prepares for two upcoming weddings and San Celina's Mardi Gras ball, our favorite folk art expert is nearly frantic, but she still tries to keep up with her civic responsibilities. Cataloguing an estate for the local historical society, Benni uncovers clues to a 40-year-old unsolved homicide. Even with those imminent wedding bells and some marital distractions of her own, she delves into a cold case that seems to be warming up. Buoyant in spirit and well plotted.
Publishers Weekly
In a story sewn together as tightly as a traditional quilt, Agatha Award-winner Fowler delivers superior cozy entertainment in her ninth Benni Harper mystery (after 2001's Arkansas Traveler). In the California coastal town of San Celina, there are weddings and wished-for weddings, plus the threatened demise of Benni's two-year marriage to police chief Gabe Ortiz, brought about by the appearance of Gabe's former female partner, Del Hernandez. Just as Benni doesn't think she can keep one more plate spinning in her busy life, two crises crop up: first, Del starts deliberately going after Gabe and lets Benni know it; second, Benni is asked to inventory four trunks full of materials possibly related to the decades-old bludgeoning death of wealthy Garvey Sullivan. Though asked only to catalogue the items, Benni becomes fascinated by the potential murder charge against Maple Sullivan, Garvey's widow. Maple fled before her husband's body was found, but she's been found "guilty" in the town's conscience and gossip ever since. Will Benni solve the old murder? Will her marriage survive the lust of Del Hernandez and the come-ons to herself from an acerbic sheriff's deputy? Will her best friend, cousin and grandmother all make it to their respective altars, fulfilling the prophecy of the Steps to the Altar quilt made for one couple? The answers to these questions make delicious reading, with plenty of passion, snappy dialogue and a whiz-bang plot. Agent, Ellen Gieger. (Apr. 2) Forecast: Ads in Romantic Times as well as handselling to romance readers could help Fowler expand beyond her core audience. The thematically appropriate quilting jacket art, however, is too busy and doesn't signal how central romance is to the story. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Everyone's favorite cowgirl, Benni Harper, seems about to have her heart's desire: to see her best friend, Elvia Aragon, married to her cousin Emory and her Grandma Dove married to longtime love Isaac Lyons. Benni and her husband Gabriel Ortiz, San Celinas's handsome chief of police, are about to move into their first new home together. But amid the whirl of gown-fittings and bridal showers, Benni's world falls apart when Gabe becomes entangled with a woman from his past: Delilah Hernandez, his partner from his days as an LAPD undercover cop. As Gabe and Del draw closer, Benni retreats, moving into their newly bought house alone and immersing herself in the job given her by Edna McClun, of the local historical society: cataloguing the belongings of Maple Bennett Sullivan, who disappeared from her San Celinas home 50 years ago, leaving her husband Garvey shot to death upstairs. Exploring the Sullivans' tragic marriage serves as a distraction, but also prompts Benni to reconsider her relationship with Gabe, and she ponders questions of love, loyalty, and temptation. The greatest temptation of all, however, may be to let her guard down and give in to the flirtatious attentions of Hudson Ford, a sheriff's detective with a lazy southern drawl and an uncanny knack for reading Benni's mind. Fowler (Arkansas Traveler, 2001, etc.) wants to tread the dangerous ground of self-examination but refuses to take any real risks as Benni, reinforced by constant evidence of her own desirability, emerges from her ordeal no different from before.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425189443
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/1/2003
  • Series: Benni Harper Series , #9
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: BERKLEY PR
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 270,329
  • Product dimensions: 4.22 (w) x 6.84 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Earlene Fowler

Earlene Fowler was raised in La Puente, California, by a Southern mother and a Western father. She lives in Southern California with her husband, Allen, a large number of quilts, and twenty pairs of cowboy boots.
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Read an Excerpt

Steps to the Altar


By Earlene Fowler

Prime Crime

Copyright © 2002 Earlene Fowler.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0425183491



Chapter One


GABE

Late at night when the dreams woke him, he would lie in the dark and try to forget the faces of the people he'd watched die. Memories of them exploded in his brain, popping and flaring like star shells launched from cannons. With a sick compulsion, he counted off their lives like a human rosary.

Vietnam was an old movie to him now, a videotape that allowed him to fast-forward through the unbearable parts. Except when he slept. In his dream world thumb-sized maggots burrowed into sweaty thighs, rancid jungles steamed like old garbage, the smell of foot rot gagged like a clump of gristle stuck fast in an esophagus narrowed by terror. His head filled with the sulfuric meaty stench of fresh blood and human entrails swarming with buzzing black flies. It was an uncontrollable roller coaster of terrifying peaks and valleys. Sometimes he cried out in his sleep, choking on his own salty bile, reactions that shamed him to his core and could have gotten him killed in country.

In 'Nam, his buddies, Jose Two, Willie M., and Clarence Earl, called him Stoneman because he never made a sound when he slept. It was a silly nickname, one given by adolescents. But of course, that's what they were. A bunch of boys sent to a jungle halfway around the world to fight some old men's pissing contest. That's the nature of war itself. At forty-four, Gabe understood that now, though he would protest in the streets and send his son to the Canadian back country before he'd let him serve in such a war.

When the dreams captured his mind and wouldn't let go, her voice brought him back.

"It's okay," her voice would call through the murky jungle of crimson sounds and smells that seemed so real they couldn't be mere products of his brain's electrical charges. Cool hands stroked his hair and face, coaxing him awake. Friday, wake up now. It's okay. You're here with me. That's good, come on back now. Come on back.

It was the same voice she used with skittish horses and panicky new heifers delivering their first calves. It was a sweet, sure voice that he trusted like no other.

It was not lost on him that she was the only woman in his life with whom his subconscious had ever felt free enough to cry for help.

But still, it shamed him. He took pride in being able to compartmentalize his life. Take a long hot mental shower and scrub away the filthy parts. Vietnam and its brittle, grisly terrors in this corner. All the women he'd thoughtlessly used in that corner. His first wife, Lydia, and his inability to love her here. His son, Sam, and how he failed him there. He wrapped all the street stories together in one filthy bundle: dead babies in plastic bags, women beaten until their faces resembled rotten plums, needle-scarred heroin addicts lying in their own shit, little girls ripped apart by their fathers' uncontrollable lust. Take all those sad human stories and shove them in a room and padlock the door. It worked perfectly. Until he went to sleep and the padlock was snapped as easily as a child's forearm.

When he came to San Celina, he'd planned only to help out his old partner, Aaron, to hold his place as police chief until he could return. He was merely looking for a stopover, a place to regroup and think about where he wanted to go. To find a place where the images could fade. He knew the faces would never go away. He knew that the past couldn't be changed. He only wanted moments of peace. That was all he hoped for. But he expected nothing.

He never expected Aaron to die. He never expected to fall in love. He never expected to find grace.


Chapter Two


BENNI

I was afraid to move.

One unlucky stumble or shift in weight and it appeared to me that I could bring Miss Christine's whole knickknack-filled teahouse down around my mud-caked boots.

As much as I loved Miss Christine, a former Vegas show girl who was rumored to have once been a mobster's girlfriend, only one thing could entice me into this garden of girlish delight. Too many cliches flitted through my mind: fish out of water, square peg in a round hole, and the most appropriate, the infamous bull in a china shop.

But it was this or having my best friend, Elvia Aragon's, wedding shower, a shower I'd waited to give since we were both second graders trading my pimento-cheese sandwiches for her homemade burritos, in my own cramped Spanish-style bungalow. I wasn't the only one who'd waited a good many years for this momentous event. When the shower's guest list hit forty, I started panicking. After moaning about the problem to my friend, Amanda Landry, expert quilter and pro bono attorney for the Josiah Sinclair Folk Art Museum, where I was curator and head bottle washer, she suggested I rent Miss Christine's Tea and Sympathy Parlor for the whole afternoon and let someone else do most of the work.

Relieved, I jumped at her advice and called two weeks ago. Thanks to Miss Christine, most of the preparations were ready to go and we were in the final phase select ing the menu. Amanda, a good ole Southern girl raised by a rich society mama in Alabama, was having the time of her life.

"I'd forgotten how fun showers are," she said, giving me her wide, white-as-new-cotton grin. Anticipation brightened her smooth-cheeked, ivory complexion as she peered toward the kitchen where Miss Christine and her chef, Jose, were working on sample trays of sandwiches, scones, and other teatime treats.

Trying to avoid what could be a small but very costly disaster, I carefully crossed my legs, resting my ankle on the knee of my slightly grimy Wranglers. I'd forgotten how crowded this place was with English china, silver, and Victorian geegaws. I'd come straight from the ranch, where I'd helped Daddy and Sam, my stepson, stack a ton of hay bales. My shoulders, unused these last few years to the manual labor, were already starting to ache. At that moment a couple of aspirin washed down with a Coke sounded more appetizing to me than chicken salad sandwiches.

"I still think A.J. Spurs Restaurant would have been better," I grumbled.

"Sure, if we were wanting steak sandwiches for you and a bunch of your ranch women friends at a Cattle-women's luncheon, Amanda said, flipping back her thick, auburn hair. But this is Elvia we're talking about. She's waited a good long while for this wedding shower. I'll bet she's attended a lakeful of them in her thirty-five years on this earth and it's payback time, babydoll."

I sighed and said, "You're right. If anyone deserves the best, it's Elvia. I'm just always afraid I'm going to trip and break a million dollars' worth of china in these places."

Amanda laughed. This isn't Tiffany's and I promise I'll pay for whatever you break.

I was picking at a piece of oat hay stuck in my jeans when Miss Christine, wearing a dress that appeared to be made of a hundred black-and-red silk scarves, came floating out of the kitchen followed by a short, thick-chested Hispanic man in a spotless white chef's coat. He carried an ornate silver tray the size of a tractor seat.

"Ladies, thank you so much for being patient, Miss Christine said. I can assure you, it will be worth the wait. My Jose is a genius with petit fours and his honey-walnut scones." She rolled kohl-lined green eyes and fanned herself with elegant fingers that seemed to be made to dangle an ivory cigarette holder between their crimson tips. "Paradise on your tongues."

The sober-faced, middle-aged man set the tray on the linen-covered table in front of us. Amanda and Miss Christine sighed simultaneously as they surveyed the tiny, crustless sandwiches and other colorful treats.

Turning my head slightly, I peeked at Jose's hand, trying to see if the rumors were true. Yep, there it was. SC 13 tattooed in dark green between his thumb and forefinger. Gabe had told me that the chef here was once quite high in one of our local gangs. He'd gone to prison for armed robbery, studied there in a special program under a San Francisco pastry chef, and recently emerged from incarceration with a skill much more in demand than driving a getaway car. Somehow, Miss Christine managed to snag him out from under the five other gourmet restaurants vying for his prestigious talents.

He saw where I was looking and gave me an amused wink. I felt my face grow warm and pretended intense interest in the food he'd prepared. My identity as the police chief's wife here in San Celina, a medium-sized college and retirement town on the Central Coast of California, was not much of a secret, even though I didn't look like the typical police chief's wife. I did my best, wearing dresses whenever appropriate and making small talk at political shindigs and charity events, but my heart just wasn't in it. I was a country girl, reluctantly moved to town by the death of my first husband and the loss of our ranch a few years back. I still managed to get out to my gramma Dove and Daddy's ranch a few times a week, but my life these days included more afternoons punching computer keys down at the folk art museum than punching cattle. Not to mention, as my beloved second husband would point out, getting way too involved in the criminal affairs of San Celina County.

Or how my cousin Emory, Elvia's fiancee and a journalist with the San Celina Tribune, would most likely say in his sexy, Arkansas drawl, sticking my snout where it shouldn't be sticking. It did me no good to insist that all the homicides I'd been involved with were only because I happened to be unlucky enough to be in the crime's vicinity.

"That's okay, sweetcakes," Emory had said a few days ago, his even-featured, handsome face giving me a loopy grin. These days, drunk on the idea of finally achieving his life's dream, marrying Elvia, every expression he wore looked a bit goofy and amazed. Without you, the chief's life would be incredibly pedestrian.

I gave a decidedly unladylike snort. "I'll remember to mention that the next time I get involved in a murder. Not that there's going to be a next time."

"Pay attention, cowgirl," Amanda said, smacking my knee. A tiny puff of chaff dust exploded and she waved it away like unwanted cigarette smoke. "What do you think of watercress, chicken salad, cucumber, and this lovely nutty-tasting spread for the sandwiches?"

I popped one of the crustless, star-shaped sandwiches in my mouth. It tasted like walnuts, mayonnaise, grape, and some other flavors I couldn't put my finger on. "It's all okay with me, though I vote thumbs-down on the watercress."

"Why?" Miss Christine and Jose blurted out simultaneously. The hurt look on Jose's craggy face made me instantly explain.

"It's not the sandwiches. I'm sure they're wonderful. It's just that watercress and I have a tumultuous history. I didn't want to go into detail about the first homicide I'd become involved with, the incident where Gabe and I met. Right before I discovered the body, I'd eaten watercress sandwiches at one of Elvia's book-signing events at her store, Blind Harry's. Later that night, I'd retasted the watercress in a not-so-pleasant manner. Really, the watercress is fine."

Jose's face softened in relief. Miss Christine straightened her spine and asked, "What about everything else?"

I glanced over the pastel-colored cakes and cookies and tiny scones and croissants. "It's all perfect. I think we should have a bit of everything you have here. Enough for forty, no make that forty-five people. What do you think, Amanda?"

She popped another strawberry-and-cream-filled miniature croissant in her mouth. "I agree. And we'll have Lady Grey tea and a lovely mint lemonade.

Very good, Miss Christine said. We'll see you all here this Sunday afternoon then."

"Wearing clean boots and underwear," I said.

Amanda kicked me under the table, grinning as she did. "I wish I could have inflicted you on my dear sweet mama before she passed on to that great tea party in the sky. She so loved a challenge."

Jose laughed out loud, a masculine rumble that was wonderfully at odds with the ultrafeminine decor. Miss Christine bestowed upon me a tentative, but brave smile, not quite certain if I was joking.

Outside the tea parlor, Amanda asked, "What about the cake?"

"Ordered it a week ago," I said. "I'm dropping by Stern's Bakery with the check this afternoon. I need to talk with Sally about Dove's shower cake. This is not the only shower meeting I had on my schedule today, you know. I'm due at the historical museum in" I checked my dependable Daffy Duck watch "an hour to discuss Dove's wedding shower."

My gramma, who had raised me since I was six years old when my mother died of cancer, had, after some thirty-odd years of widowhood, decided to get married. Her fiancee, the world-renowned photographer Isaac Lyons, had entered our lives a year and a half ago when he'd come to San Celina to investigate his granddaughter's mysterious death. He and I solved the case and in the process he fell head-over-boot-heels in love with my gramma. A man of impeccable taste if you wanted my unbiased opinion.

That is so great, Amanda said, leaning against one of San Celina's black wrought iron lampposts. They were decorated on this cool, February morning with emerald green, royal purple, and bright gold streamers advertising this week's Mardi Gras festivities. "Dove gettin' married at seventy-seven after all those years being a widow. How's your daddy takin' it? Is he feelin' threatened by Isaac becomin' his stepdaddy?"

"Are you kidding? He is so thrilled to have someone else getting all Dove's attention and nagging he's been telling his cronies down at the Farm Supply that he's got the shotgun loaded in case Isaac tries to back out."

Amanda gave a delighted laugh. "Not much chance of that, I'll just bet. Isaac is downright besotted, far as I can see."

"Yeah, he and Emory could be January and February for a Men Crazy in Love calendar."

"Where're Dove and Isaac plannin' on living?"

"Out at the ranch. It's got four bedrooms and three bathrooms. Daddy says one more place at the table sure doesn't bother him."

"Have they set a date?" Amanda asked.

"Tentatively. It's after Elvia's for sure. Dove's thinking three weeks."

"Are you involved in the planning?

I shook my head no. "Trying not to be. She hasn't decided yet what kind of wedding she wants and she's been driving me crazy with her suggestions. She wants it to be memorable, she says. Since Isaac's been married five times, she wants this one to stand out."

As if on cue, my new cell phone rang. "Happy Trails" reverberated from deep inside my leather backpack, and it took a few minutes for me to find the phone and answer it.

"Yes? Hello?" I said in that loud tin-cans-tied-with-a-string voice that none of us seems to be able to stop using with cell phones.

"Medieval," Dove yelled back at me. She must have been using her new cell phone too." I could wear one of them pointy hats like Maid Marian. Make Mac dress up like Friar Tuck. We could serve chicken and fruit and eat it with our hands."

"That would certainly save on dishwashing," I said noncommittedly. However this wedding of hers and Isaac's turned out, I was determined not to be the person blamed for any mishaps, so I was agreeing with everything.

"Think I could talk your daddy into wearing tights?

I held back my laughter. Uh if anyone could, you could." Not unless he'd just drunk a gallon of moonshine, I was actually thinking.

"I don't know, she yelled. I don't look that great in pointy hats. Call you later." The phone went dead.

"What's the news?" Amanda's face was curious. Being an only child, she envied the complications my extended family brought into my life.

"I think we just narrowly missed a Robin Hood wedding."

"I loved Kevin Costner in that movie no matter what anyone said."

"Well, Dove doesn't look good in pointy hats."

"Who does?"

We hugged, said our goodbyes, and agreed to meet at Miss Christine's this Sunday an hour before the shower to set out the party favors and do a little decorating. Amanda, bless her Martha Stewart heart, was planning all the shower games. All I had to do was buy the prizes and my own shower gift for Elvia. That meant a trip to Angelina's Attic, a local lingerie store.

February was one of my favorite months in San Celina. The air was cool and clean-tasting, like water from a deep, rock-lined well. Cal Poly students had lost the frenetic gotta-try-it-all edge they sported at the beginning of the school year and hadn't yet acquired the end-of-the-year hysteria that would come in a few months. Except for the tinge of excitement brought on by the coming Mardi Gras festival and parade that San Celina proudly touted as being the biggest ones west of the Mississippi, the town had a calm, peaceful air to its tree-lined streets. I walked down Lopez Street toward Stern's Bakery, my mind wandering, thinking about the blissful time a month from now when both Elvia and Dove's weddings were over and life was back to normal.

At Stern's Hometown Bakery, a jingle of sleigh bells announced my entry into the almond-scented place. Sally, a handsome, white-haired woman who'd owned the bakery since I was a kindergartner, sat at a round glass-topped table thumbing through a photograph album of cakes with two older ladies. She lifted up a finger to let me know she'd be with me in a moment. I poured a cup of their strong dark coffee, picked a cherry-topped cookie from the tray of freebies, and sat down in a white wicker chair.

After Sally had taken the ladies' order and pressed upon them a free half dozen of her famous poppy seed cookies, she poured herself a cup of coffee and joined me.

"Hello, Mrs. Chief-of-Police, she said. How're the dual shower plans progressing?"

"Just came from Miss Christine's Tea and Sympathy, I said. It was brilliant of Amanda to suggest letting someone else do all the work. All I have to do is buy the prizes, Elvia's shower present, and write a check. And speaking of checks, that's why I'm here. I pulled my checkbook and a copy of the bakery bill out of my backpack. I want to settle up my accounts for both cakes so I can mark one more thing off my list."

"I'm always amenable to accepting money, she said, tucking a strand of loose hair back into her bun. The cakes will be ready when you are. Sunday and Wednesday, right?"

"Right. I'll pick up Elvia's cake about ten a.m. Sunday and Dove's about noon on Wednesday." I handed her the check.

"So, are you about ready to go nuts?" she asked, taking the check and standing up. "Want some more coffee?"

"No, thanks, I'll just have to find a bathroom, and from what I hear, the one over at the historical museum has been on the blink."

"What's going on over at the museum?" she asked, walking behind the counter and punching the keys to the cash register.

"Final preparations for Dove's shower."

"She is one brave woman, getting married again after all these years. How's she holding up?"

I grinned. She's doing fine. Now Isaac" Sally laughed. He should be used to it. Hasn't he been married a few times?"

"Five, to be exact. But never to a Ramsey woman."

Sally nodded, her pink cheeks shiny under the bright fluorescent light. "He needs to consult with the chief."

"Not if we can help it," I said, laughing. "We want this marriage to take place."

"Well, I'm so happy for both Dove and Elvia. I'll be at both showers."

"See you then." I snagged one more cookie and headed toward the historical museum.

The San Celina County Historical Museum was located one street over from Lopez Street in the old brick Carnegie Library building. As a child, before they built the new library out by Laguna Lake, I'd spent many long, lazy afternoons here in the children's department reading Curious George and Big Red books. When I was fifteen years old, I received my first kiss under the olive tree on the patio from Jack Harper, my late first husband who'd died in a car wreck three years ago this month. Walking under the stone archway into the old library never ceased to fill me with a sweet, sad longing for times past. When the building came to house the historical remnants of San Celina County and its citizens, I'd spent even more endless afternoons as an adult helping Dove catalog and organize donated items. As a thirty-year member of the historical society, she knew every piece of clothing, jewelry, tools, and needlework by heart.

Inside the cool entry hall, I spotted June Rae Gates, one of Dove's oldest friends, behind the gift shop counter.

"Hi, June Rae," I said. "Everyone present and accounted for?"

"Yes, ma'am," she said, locking the cash register and slipping the key in the pocket of her wraparound denim skirt. She taped a hand-printed sign to the register that stated if anyone wanted to buy something, to come find her at the back of the museum. "We need to make it quick because Elmo's cat has an appointment for a CAT scan and my college helper canceled out on me. I think she has a new boyfriend."

"His cat is getting a CAT scan?" I couldn't stop the giggle that fell from my lips.

She patted her peppery hair. "I know, it does sound funny. The poor thing's got arthritis so bad it can barely walk. I don't think a CAT scan will show much but that it's as old as the rest of us, but Elmo'd sell his new Cadillac for Inkspot."

I nodded, feeling sympathy for Elmo. I'd probably be just as insistent when it came to my dog, Scout, a chocolate Lab-German shepherd mix. I followed her toward the circle of folding chairs. The rest of the Dove Ramsey Wedding Shower Committee was already in place, munching away on some of Maria Ramirez's chocolate cinnamon cookies. I grabbed one with pink icing and slid into an empty chair. The air was a sugary mixture of lavender- and magnolia-scented colognes, the bitter scent of store brand coffee, and the dusty, comfortable smell of a building that had survived two World Wars and more than a few broken hearts.

After a brief report by all the members, we agreed that everything was on schedule and ready to go. June Rae went back up to the counter and I was standing around the coffeepot listening to Elmo Ritter's diatribe about the sad state of veterinary medicine (he'd been through four vets looking for the one who could give him the impossible the fountain of youth for Inkspot) when Edna McClun, another of Dove's friends, grabbed my forearm and exclaimed, "You're just the person I was looking for!"

Why is it those words never fail to fill me with trepidation?

My response was automatic. "I didn't do it and I didn't see a thing."

"Oh, you," she said, patting my shoulder lightly. "You're such a card. Seriously, I have something I think you'll really be interested in."

Another statement warning me there was work involved.

I contemplated my half-eaten cookie, then looked back at her cajoling smile and said, "Okay, I'll bite."

"You know I'm on the committee to restore the Sullivan house."

"No, I didn't," I said, popping the rest of the cookie in my mouth, figuring I'd need the carbohydrates for whatever task she was wanting me to take on.

"Have you been reading about it in the historical society newsletter?"

"Yes, and congratulations on finally getting it declared an historical landmark." "The Sullivan house, a Queen Anne Victorian on the far edge of San Celina's city limits, had been in a state of decay as long as I could remember. I had vague memories of someone saying the Sullivan family had died out and the house was repossessed for back taxes. I also vaguely remembered buying raffle tickets for a quilt made to raise funds to buy the property. I assumed the historical society must have succeeded when I read a few months back about the house being declared an historical landmark. On the property there was also another unusual structure, an octagonal barn, one of only two in California.

"Acquiring it wasn't easy, but generations to come will be glad we did," she continued. "The Sullivans were a very prominent family in San Celina County during the early part of the century. Arthur Sullivan and his son, Garvey, owned many of the best grain fields and the largest beef cattle herd in the county. They were also smart enough to build huge grain storage silos in the thirties, which they rented out to other farmers during the war when the farmers had to switch from bags to bulk because the government needed the jute for the war effort. The Sullivans also owned a good bit of downtown and were very involved with the building of Camp Riley up near San Miguel."

I glanced at my watch. Though normally I enjoyed hearing oral history from someone who'd lived during that time, I had a lunch date with Gabe in fifteen minutes.

"So, what are you trying to rope me into doing, Edna? You know I've got a pretty full plate these days so it can't take too much time."

"Oh, it's something you can do at your leisure. It's about Maple Bennett Sullivan."

The name sounded familiar but I couldn't put my finger on how. "Maple Bennett Sullivan?"

"I'm sure you must have heard about the tragedy with her and her husband, Garvey."

I shrugged. The history of this county was rife with nefarious shenanigans usually involving land ownership, cattle rustling, and water rights. Every old family had its share of misfortune and sad stories. "Can't recall anything offhand."

"I don't see how you can't remember this one, my dear. It's right up your alley." Her watery blue eyes twinkled behind her round plastic eyeglasses.

"Why's that?"

"She murdered her husband, my dear girl."


Excerpted from Steps to the Altar by Earlene Fowler . Copyright © 2002 by Earlene Fowler. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 12, 2012

    Great series

    Just recently discovered the Benni Harper series, and am having so much fun following the events in her life as she gets tangled up in so many unusual and entertaining mysteries/murders. Her life story unfolds throughout the series and that makes you want to find the next book in the series.

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  • Posted November 28, 2011

    Check it out

    Loved this book as much as her other books. enjoyable and relaxing to sit down with.

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  • Posted March 2, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Great Read!

    This is a great little read. A bit of mystery, some romance, a dash of history - well-rounded. A great rainy day read. Fowler usually incorporates quilts into the stories - just wish there were pictures!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2002

    An entertaining read!!

    Steps to the Altar is my first Benni Harper mystery, and you can bet I'll be starting back with her first adventure and working my way forward! Earlene Fowler is a very enjoyable writer, and has created very believable and well thought out characters. This particular book is as much romance as it is mystery, but she appears to write in both genres quite well. Enjoyed the book immensely!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2002

    Earlene has done it again!

    I love Benni and Gabe. I have read all of Earlene Fowler's books and they just keep getting better. The only problem is--she writes just one a year! Keep it up and I'll look for Benni and Gabe next year.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2002

    This is a 10 star book!

    Earlene Fowler has done it again! Gabe and Benni have big time problems, but hearing Gabe's take on things this time was so incredible. They love each other and, without giving away any plots, Earlene does not have them just jumping in the sack to satisfy their base desires the way other authors do. I never have to worry about recommending an Earlene Fowler book to a friend. The murder Benni tries to solve is wonderful. The wedding preparations are so perfectly placed in the storyline. The characters are true to their history and well developed. As always, the solutions to the plot twists are in no way predictable. The only problem is waiting for the next book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2002

    Compelling!

    This ninth book in the series is another compelling read! I¿ve watched Benni grow throughout the series and in Steps to the Altar she came across some of her greatest challenges and dealt with them admirably. Earlene Fowler¿s writing pulls you into the story so that the book stays in your mind long after you finish reading. Thanks, Earlene, for keeping the story and characters so fresh and alive.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2002

    excellent Benni Harper tale

    The central coastal California town of San Celina is home to chief of police Gabe Ortiz and his wife Benni Harper. Although Gabe was once an undercover narcotics officer in the big city, receiving an adrenaline high from collaring a drug dealer, he is content now to work in this quiet college and retirement village. However, whenever a homicide does occur, it seems that Benni is in the middle of it, much to Gate¿s consternation. <P> Homicide is the farthest thing from Benni¿s mind now. Her best friend is about to marry her cousin (two people she cherishes) and her grandmother is getting married after forty years of being a widow. Benni is all caught up in wedding preparations when Gabe¿s ex-lover comes to town determined to win him back. To get her mind off her heartache, Benni becomes involved in another homicide investigation, one that is fifty years old. <P>It¿s interesting to see Benni solve a case that is over a half a century old using old newspaper reports and historical documents. Although STEPS TO AN ALTAR is billed as a mystery, it is as much a romance with Benni having an admirer who finally comes out of the closet. Told in the first person from Gabe and Benni¿s point of view, readers are able to feel close to both protagonists and understand their feelings and actions. <P>Harriet Klausner

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews

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