Agatha Award Nominee for Best First Novel
"Bryan's voice is rich with empathy, suspense, and Southern charm." Ellery Adams, New York Times bestselling author
Christmas is just around the corner, and the ladies of the Cumberland Creek Scrapbook Crop are thrilled when Sheila wins the first place prize in a scrapbooking design contest: a ten-day scrapbook-themed cruise in the Caribbean. Vera and Paige decide to tag along, which should pose the perfect opportunity to learn some new techniques, mingle with fellow croppers, and get in some rest and relaxation before the chaos of Christmas. But when Sheila finds a famous crafter dead, and investigators determine she was poisoned, the luxury cruise veers toward disaster as Sheila becomes the number one suspector was she really the intended victim? Just as the croppers begin un-wrapping the truth, a storm strands them at sea, and they'll find it's harder than ever to survive the holidays with a killer on deck. . .
Praise for Mollie Cox Bryan
"A satisfying and surprising read." Sheila Connolly, New York Times bestselling author on Scrapped
"Thought-provoking and well-paced. . . A great story, well told!" Juliet Blackwell, New York Times bestselling author of the Witchcraft mysteries on Scrapped
"A font of ingenuity. . .superb entertainment." Mystery Scene magazine on Scrapbook of Secrets
Includes tips and a glossary of terms for the modern scrapbooker!
About the Author
Mollie Cox Bryan is the author of the Cumberland Creek Scrapbooking mystery series and the Cora Crafts mystery series. She is also author of two cookbooks, the regional bestseller Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies and Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant Cookbook: A Lifetime of Recipes from the Shenandoah Valley. An award‑winning journalist and poet, she currently blogs, cooks, and scrapbooks in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia with her husband and two daughters. Scrapbook of Secrets was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Visit her on the web at molliecoxbryan.com.
Read an Excerpt
A Crafty Christmas
By Mollie Cox Bryan
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Mollie Cox Bryan
All rights reserved.
Was that a person lying half in the shadows of the ship's deck?
When Sheila had tripped, her eyeglasses flew off her face. She'd stumbled and landed on her knees, groping around for them. On this, her second day of running on the deck of the cruise ship, images of disaster ticked at her brain. What if she couldn't find her glasses? What if they were broken? She didn't have a spare. Finally, she found them and slipped them on.
Now, what was it she tripped over? What was she touching as she groped around?
She tried to get a better view as she struggled to her feet. But the sun hadn't cracked the Caribbean sky yet this morning, and the ship's lights were dim. The glasses weren't helping, either. It looked like there was a sack shaped like a body lying on the deck, with an arm strewn over the path. That cant be right. She pulled the glasses off her face. These are not my glasses.
A huge floodlight flicked on, and Sheila now saw the object she was looking at was indeed a person, lying there in a most uncomfortable position. Drunk, of course. She thought she saw her own glasses just beyond the person's arm, and as she reached for them, a member of the ship's crew came walking over.
"Is everything okay here?"
"My glasses. I tripped," she said, stumbling backward over the person's arm again.
"It looks like someone had quite a night," Sheila said, smiling. She was no prude and enjoyed a drink or two, but she'd never seen so much drinking in her life as what she had witnessed on this cruise.
The crew member's expression grew pained as he leaned in closer, shaking the person gently.
"Dead," the man said.
"What?" Sheila said with a sharp tone, dropping her glasses. Was he joking with her? What a sick joke.
"Stay right there," he said, and pulled out his cell phone. "I'll call security."
"I'm in the middle of my run," she said, dazed.
"Ma'am," he said. All business. Very stern. "I need you to stay here."
"Well, all right," she said, picking up her glasses and slipping them on. Her heart was thumping against her rib cage.
As she stood next to the crumpled body on the deck, she crouched over to take a better look. She blinked. The side of the face was clear: mouth open and skin sickly blue. Sheila stood fast. Yes, that was a dead person on the deck. And she had been groping around the body. Touching the body as she searched for her glasses. As soon as it sank in, she proceeded to do what any normal, red-blooded woman would do. She watched everything melt around her ... and she swooned.
When she came to, she heard a familiar voice. "She runs every day," the voice said. "Nothing unusual about that. "
Sheila blinked her eyes. Where was she? She looked around. There was a CPR poster, a table with medical supplies, and she was lying on a cot, underneath a soft blanket. She figured she was in the infirmary—and, man, her head throbbed. She reached her hand to her forehead and felt the swollen area. It hurt to touch it. When she'd passed out, she must have fallen forward. Of course. She was such a klutz. Why couldn't she have swooned with grace, like they did in the movies?
As she lay on the cot, her mind patching together what had happened, she began to feel sick. She'd tripped over a dead person, and what was more, she'd been pawing around the body to find her glasses. Where were they, anyway?
She started to sit up, but dizziness overtook her. She wanted to cry.
Here she was on a scrapbooking cruise, as the guest of honor—a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—and she couldn't even sit up.
"Mrs. Rogers? Please don't sit up yet," said a male voice coming from the side of the room. She couldn't see without twisting her aching head. "You took quite a fall and have a nasty head injury. We don't think it's a concussion, but we need to keep an eye on you."
"Sheila!" a familiar voice said, and Vera's face came into view. "How do you feel?"
"Like hell," she managed to say. "What happened?"
Vera's presence calmed her. She was Sheila's best friend. They'd known each other their whole lives. It was hard to imagine life without Vera.
Vera's mouth twisted. "I was hoping you could tell us. We were paged. They said you had an accident. We came rushing down here. And this security guy starts questioning me like I'm a common criminal. Then he starts questioning us about you."
"Vera, you're babbling," Paige said as she came up behind Vera.
Paige was here, too. That was good. Another friend whom she'd known for a long time. And for some reason, Sheila felt like she needed as many as she could get.
"I tripped and fell during my run," Sheila said, nearing tears.
"That's not like you," Vera said. "You've been running your whole life. I don't think I've ever known you to fall."
"She said she tripped," Paige said. "Anybody can trip."
"Yes, I fell over a ... body," Sheila said. "I've got this horrible headache. Anybody know where my glasses are? "
"Here." Paige handed them to her.
"No, these aren't mine."
"You fell over a body?" Vera asked, ignoring the part about the eyeglasses.
"These are the only glasses I see here," Paige told her, and then turned. "Any idea where her glasses are?"
"Those aren't hers?" the male voice said.
Sheila sighed in frustration. "No, they are not mine. I'm sure I had them when I passed out. I think. Maybe they fell off again. These glasses must belong to the ... the deceased."
"Which means that the dead woman has your glasses on," Vera said, smirking, then giggling.
"What's so funny?" Paige asked.
Vera shrugged and laughed. "It just seems funny. I don't think she has any need for eyeglasses if she's dead, is all."
These two had been sniping at one another since they'd gotten on board. Paige was mad because Vera had brought Eric along on what was supposed to be a girls-only trip. Vera became upset when she realized Paige was mad, yet Paige's son had joined them on board to surprise his mother. Yet another man.
"Hi, Sheila." The male voice suddenly merged with a face as he gently moved the two women away. "I'm Doctor Sweeney. How do you feel? Head hurt?"
She nodded. A nurse brought her an ice pack.
"Let's keep the ice on that bump for a while. I'll get you some pain medicine. Are you allergic to anything?"
"Nothing," she said. "I'd really like my glasses. Everything is a blur. "
"We have someone working on that," he said. The nurse brought water and some pills. "This should help with the pain. I hope your vision is a blur because you don't have your glasses. You really smacked your head."
"Well, here they are," said another man, who walked into the room. He was tall, well built, and wearing a linen suit. His long black dreadlocks were pulled back into a ponytail.
He handed Sheila her glasses, and she slid them on her face. The world around her took on a familiar clarity.
"Mrs. Rogers, I'm Matthew Kirtley, from Ahoy Security. I have a few questions for you," he said. His voice was softer than what his body and his professional attitude would have led one to believe.
"Can it wait?" the doctor said. "We're not sure how she's doing."
"Certainly," Matthew said, and smiled. "Whenever you're up to it. My vic is not going anywhere. Well, nobody is. That's one of the interesting things about security on a ship. Nobody's going anywhere. Not even the murderer."
"Murder?" Sheila said. Her hand went to her chest. Paige and Vera rushed to her side; both paled at the word that stuck in the air and hovered around them.
Finally, Matthew Kirtley cleared his throat in the quiet room, which made Sheila's heart nearly leap out of her chest. They were on a cruise ship with a dead body and a murderer.
Nobody's going anywhere. Not even the murderer.CHAPTER 2
Sheila sank further into the pillow. Her head ached, the room spun every time she opened her eyes, and this was her big dream vacation. She had won the free scrapbooking cruise with two free guest tickets from entering a scrapbooking design contest. Who would have thought a murder would take place among a group of two thousand scrapbookers?
She decided to not think about it. Instead she tried to focus on the good things about the cruise. Who would have thought such a devastating and cruel act could take place when they had stepped on board two days ago? Sheila could never have imagined such finery as what she saw when she'd first set foot in the atrium.
"They said it was going to be luxurious," Paige had whispered as they all stopped in the bustling crowd to take it all in.
The somewhat worn but very excited group from Cumberland Creek had stood on the white and brown marble floors and surveyed the huge, elegant room. A crystal chandelier sparkled from five floors above them. A white baby grand piano sat in the corner. A gentleman in a tuxedo played "White Christmas" with a pleasant smile on his handsome face.
Christmas trees and poinsettias filled the hall. Tall, thin trees were lined up against the gold columns that reached from floor to the ceiling. Wreaths with glittering gold ribbons hung from the balconies of the open restaurants and bars. In the center of the room was the largest Christmas tree any of them had ever seen.
"Welcome aboard," said a man dressed in a uniform as he came toward them. "Are you Mrs. Rogers?"
"Yes," Sheila said.
"Our guest of honor," he said. "I am Captain Marsten."
Sheila beamed. "These are my friends." She introduced Vera and Paige, who were taking advantage of the free trip. Then she introduced Eric, Vera's boyfriend, and Randy, Paige's son.
"What do you folks think of her?" the captain asked, opening his arms wide to indicate his ship.
"She is breathtaking," Randy said. "Much bigger than I ever expected."
"Ah, but turn around," the captain replied.
And when they did so, Vera gasped out loud. Two huge spiral staircases led up to the top floor and strands of lights draped down the center of them—giving the area a glistening sheen. Vera, the dancer in the crowd, loved her sparkles.
"I love the idea of hanging lights from the ceiling like that," she said. "Amazing."
"The ceiling is pretty amazing, too," Eric pointed out, looking skyward. Circular patterns etched in gold and light filled the ceiling.
"What do I smell?" Sheila asked.
"I think that's the gingerbread," the captain said. "We have every kind of restaurant and food shop you can think of on this ship. Right over here is one of my favorite places, our pastry shop. They are giving out gingerbread cookies right now, to welcome our guests. Please help yourselves. I really must take my leave, but I am at your service."
Due to Sheila's award-winning status, they'd been the first passengers allowed to board the ship, and so they were also the first to enter the pastry shop, which was exactly the opposite of the atrium in terms of atmosphere. It was cozy and quaint with dark-colored woodsy walls, ceiling, tables, and bars. Servers were dressed in red velvet shorts with suspenders over white crisp blouses, and each of them wore a Santa hat. They held up trays of spicy-scented cookies.
Sheila reached for one. "Oh my gosh, I'm going to gain ten pounds on this cruise," she said. The cookie was still warm.
"I'm glad they took our bags," Paige whispered, as she fussed around with her cookies.
"Why are you whispering?" Vera asked.
"I don't know," she said, her voice getting a little stronger. An awestruck look came over her. "I guess if this is a dream, I don't want to wake myself up."
The group took their cookies and walked through the shop to the other side, where there was a smaller atrium with a fountain in the center. It glowed red and then green as the water spurted in streams.
"I really need to sit down," Sheila said as she spied some tables and chairs in the corner. The group followed, sitting and eating their cookies.
"Not bad," Randy said. "Could have used a bit more ginger." Randy was a pastry chef in New York City. He'd joined his mother on the cruise because he was going through a rough breakup with his boyfriend of many years. He needed some time away from the city. And some time with his mother—they had been estranged for a while.
"Hmph," Paige said. "I was thinking they need more sugar."
"I think the cookies are perfect," Sheila said.
And for two days the cruise had been perfect. Scrapbooking with people from all over the world was just the beginning of the perfection. Some of the world's most well-known professional scrapbookers were here. And, because Sheila had won the contest, they were all introduced to her.
Everything had been perfect—until this morning.
She lay in the infirmary trying to gather her strength, keep her wits about her. Don't panic, she kept telling herself. Think of all the good things about the cruise, of all the good things that have happened and that will happen.
But it was so hard to think between the pounding jabs in her head.CHAPTER 3
Annie was sitting in front of the computer, working on her new book about the Mary Schultz murder, when she heard a strange beeping noise. It was a new computer—she'd taken part of her advance to purchase it. She didn't have time to read the manual, so she had just plunged in to using it. The beep came again. What the heck was it? Was her computer freaking out? Then she saw the Skype icon light up. Ah-ha.
The screen popped up with Vera's and Paige's faces on it.
"Hello, hello, one-two-three, testing," Vera said as if yelling through a megaphone.
"Okay, yes, I see and hear you," Annie said, smiling, then waving. Amazing! Her friends were out at sea and yet she saw them on her screen. "How's the cruise?"
Their white faces didn't look like they had gotten any sun yet. She was expecting them to be sunburned by now.
"Sheila took a fall and has a mild concussion," Vera said. "I'm very worried about her. She had to miss her first appointment this morning."
"Yeah," Paige piped up. "She tripped over a dead body."
"What?" Annie's heart skipped a beat. They'd all had too much death in their lives the past few years. It had finally calmed down in Cumberland Creek and now Sheila trips over a body on a cruise? "How?"
They filled her in.
"Who is this person?" Annie asked. A mixture of morbid curiousity, reporter's instincts, and concern for her friends coursed through her.
"We don't know. They are not telling us a thing," Vera said, eyes wide. "It's like a big secret or something."
"They probably don't know who it is yet," Paige said. "I told you that." She said it with an edge to her voice. Paige was annoyed. "You've got close to two thousand people on board. There was no identification on the body."
"I'm sure it will all come out eventually. They probably need to contact the family first. What makes them think it's murder?" Annie asked, trying not to sound panicked.
"We have no idea," Vera said, shrugging.
"Other than all this, how is the cruise?" Annie said. She tried to ignore the fear she felt creeping along her spine. Her friends were on a ship with a killer.
"It's gorgeous," said Paige. "The water. Saint Thomas was wonderful. Just so beautiful. "
"Yesterday was a lot of fun," Vera said. "We went to a session on altered books. It's amazing what you can do. Eric even liked it. I'll tell you more about altered books later."
"Eric's there?" Annie said, surprised. She noticed Paige crossed her arms. Ah-ha. That's what the problem is. Annie almost laughed.
Vera nodded. "He surprised me and came along."
"Speaking of surprises ..." Paige looked off camera and then her son, Randy, was on camera, grinning. "Hiya, Annie," he said. "Do you mind if I steal them away for lunch?"
"Good to see you, Randy," Annie said. She was thrilled that Paige and Randy would be spending time together without Earl, who still hadn't fully accepted his son was gay. He was working on it, but he sure was stubborn.
"Well, ladies, we have to go or we'll miss lunch," Randy said.
Excerpted from A Crafty Christmas by Mollie Cox Bryan. Copyright © 2014 Mollie Cox Bryan. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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