Looking for a craft cozy so memorable you’ll stay up late scrapping about it? Well, welcome to the town of Eden.
Faith Hunter, who is supposed to be planning her wedding, instead finds herself distracted by the town scrapbook she was commissioned to create. Eden’s oldest mystery, the founding family’s exodus nearly a hundred years ago, remains unsolved.
A search through the family’s abandoned mansion leads to the uncovering of bones on that very property. And then ex-boyfriend Steve Davis announces a surprise heir has staked a claim.
How can Faith not be distracted? Now she’s determined to dig up the truth left behind.
Because scrappers are multi-taskers extraordinaire, Faith can’t say no when family friend Wyatt Buford asks her to look into his deadbeat father’s disappearing act and his connection to the murder.
Her quest for answers unearths secrets past and present that some would prefer stay buried at any cost. Faith’s resolve to present the facts and nothing but about Eden’s history could lead to her own future being cut short.
See what I mean about memorable? Delve in to Eden and you’ll find a cozy you won’t soon forget.
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ALTERED TO DEATH by Christina Freeburn | A Henery Press Mystery
“Faith Hunter is a delightful amateur sleuth and the quirky characters that inhabit the town of Eden are the perfect complement to her overly inquisitive ways.” – Jenn McKinlay, New York Times Bestselling Author of Copy Cap Murder
“Christina’s characters shine, her knowledge of scrapbooking is spot on, and she weaves a mystery that simply cries out to be read in one delicious sitting!” – Pam Hanson, Author of Faith, Fireworks, and Fir
The Faith Hunter Scrap This Mystery series brings together Christina Freeburn’s love of mysteries, scrapbooking, and West Virginia. When not writing or reading, she can be found in her scrapbook room or at a crop. Alas, none of the real-life crops have had a sexy male prosecutor or a handsome police officer attending. Christina served in the JAG Corps of the US Army and has also worked as a paralegal, librarian, and church secretary. She lives in West Virginia with her husband, children, a dog, and a rarely seen cat except by those who are afraid or allergic to felines.
Read an Excerpt
The sun was peeking over the mountains, turning the sky a light pink as I pulled into one of the employee parking spaces behind Scrap This. The safety light was shining on the dark green dumpster. After finding a body by it a few years ago, my grandmothers thought it was best to have it and the backdoor lit up like it was the star of a show.
I yawned and snatched up my insulated mug to take a sip of coffee. Six thirty was too early to be at work, at least for me. A morning person I was not. I enjoyed the shows the Food Network and HGTV ran after nine o'clock too much to be an up at dawn person. And the creative side of my brain usually didn't spark to life until around that time also. A blessing and a curse as it helped put me in a happy frame of mind before bed, but it also made my normal bedtime around midnight.
One of the best things about managing Scrap This, besides playing with and ordering scrapbooking goodies, was the store didn't open until nine, perfect for my sleeping patterns. I usually didn't arrive until eight, but the closer it came to March 15, the earlier I arrived as the countdown to hand over the scrapbooks I was making of the history of Eden for the historical society was almost upon me. I had six weeks left.
Scrapbooking the history of our town wasn't quite the easy project I envisioned. I figured I'd place an ad in the paper asking for stories and pictures from the town's residents and check out a couple of books from the library to create some layouts of the key moments in our history. Instead, boxes upon boxes of memorabilia and pictures were dropped off. I had finally gotten through the sorting process and was now at the making layouts stage of the project.
I was hoping that today I'd be allowed to poke around the attic of the Everton mansion, prior home of our town's founding family, for any photographs, diaries, and other artifacts the first family of Eden might have left behind when they made a mass exodus ninety-five years ago. Plus, I wanted to get some pictures of the ballroom to start planning how to decorate it for my wedding.
The Evertons were big entertainers back in the day, or at least that was what the house said with its huge kitchen, large library with high ceilings and smooth wooden floors, different material from the floor in the other areas of the house. In the corners, there were small colored inlaid designs. It looked like a dance floor. The dining room and kitchen area had tiles while the rest of the bedrooms had knotted hardwood floors. The historical society kept the library pretty much the same except for adding in better lighting and new windows. They wanted to rent out the room for weddings and other events. My grandmothers thought it would be an awesome place for a weekend crop retreat. The uniqueness of the setting would have out of town scrapbookers coming to Eden to scrapbook in a historic place, bringing the shoppers to our store and other businesses in Eden.
Smiling, I looked down at my left hand and twisted the band of my engagement ring back and forth. Some days I still couldn't believe that I was engaged to Ted Roget. My once upon a time nemesis turned best friend, and one day I realized he was the love of my life. Three years ago, I told everyone I never intended to marry. Heck, I had intended to be a onesome for the rest of my life, but I had come to realize one bad choice didn't mean I had to live such an extreme life.
Ted was happy I had the mystery of the disappearance of the Everton family to work on instead of finding a way into helping with one of the crimes he was investigating. He hoped this project, along with work I was doing for his brother, Bob, would occupy my time and attention. At first Ted wasn't thrilled over the fact his brother hired me as a researcher for his private investigating business, but since it made me happy and allowed me to use the skills I developed in amateur sleuthing in a productive way, it changed Ted's attitude about my part-time job.
I scooted out of my car, careful not to spill my coffee, and went to the back door. I tightened the hold on my coffee, seeking warmth from my beverage, and unlocked the door. Winter had been nonexistent in January but found its way back to us in February. The forecast was calling for snow this weekend. I hoped it didn't delay the renovations on the Everton mansion. Thankfully, the Buford brothers had been able to catch up on the project after the late start on the renovations because of an argument within the historical society on who should be hired. Ruthann Pancake, the maven of the society, put her foot down and insisted the Buford brothers, being lifetime residents of Eden — regardless of their family's social standing in the community — be awarded the contract.
I walked into the employee lounge, which was doubling as the official scrapbooking spot for the town's scrapbooks. Since I couldn't just scrapbook all day, I required a spot where I could create and not have to clean up every night. It was also nice that I could leave boxes on the counter to sort items that needed returning to their owners.
I pulled out the archival storage box where I was keeping the information I had uncovered about the Everton family. This was the most important part of the scrapbooking project, the beginning of our town story, and I basically had nothing. Rudolph, Edith and their three daughters left Virginia at the start of the Civil War and stopped in this area because of a snowstorm. I had researched the weather and confirmed the snowstorm and the existence of the family. They weren't made up. But after that, everything got sketchy.
Rudolph had brought in a builder who had constructed his family's prior home in Virginia to help him build the Everton mansion in Eden. A few years after the youngest daughters had fled Eden, Rudolph, his wife, and oldest daughter also slunk away in the night never to be heard from again.
The biggest mystery in Eden's history was why had the entire Everton clan left town? Was it because of the rumors that the younger girls, Mabel and Laura, had been willingly spirited away by bank robbers? Or had something else made the family leave? No one had been in the home for over fifty years, and there was a chance the Evertons left some important pieces of their history behind. When one is fleeing town in the middle of the night, you didn't bring a lot of stuff with you. I needed to get into the mansion.
I pulled out my cell phone and composed a text to Gussie Buford. If anyone could get Wayne and Wyatt to allow me into the house, it was their mother. They had to have completed enough of the renovation to where it was now safe to go inside. Like me, their deadline was six weeks away. If the scrapbook project didn't sway her, I would add a bit about checking out the venue for my reception, which was two weeks after the grand opening of the Everton mansion to the public. Gussie was a romantic. I knew that would do it.
"Delivery," Sierra said. "I found this by the back door. Looks like more items for sorting. How is the town's scrapbook coming along?"
I finished my text to Gussie and hit send. The boys had a tough time saying no to their mom. I felt a little bad using our friendship, but my deadline was approaching and I didn't want to fail. It was nice being needed by my community, and I didn't want to disappoint anyone.
Sierra placed a cardboard box on the counter near the microwave, the point farthest from the sink.
"Did my grandmother ask you to come in this morning?" Tendrils of panic grew in my chest. Hope and Cheryl were scheduled to come in and work on the books this morning. Why had they called in Sierra?
As my grandmothers aged, I worried every time one of them switched the schedule to have Sierra or Marilyn come in for them. Lately, it had been happening more and more, with Sierra being the one they called. Were they keeping health issues from me?
Sierra offered a wane smile. "I asked them if there were any hours available. Hope offered me hers."
"I thought Hank would be busy between working for the Bufords at the Everton place and doing side carpentry work."
Slowly, Sierra turned to look at me. The expression on her face said it all. Once again, Hank was unemployed. I didn't think the side business would last long since Hank didn't have the temperament to deal with customer complaints, whether big or small. But, I had believed that working on the Buford crew would keep Hank's temper in check. At over six feet tall and being hefty because of muscles, Wayne and Wyatt weren't the type most people tried to take advantage of or ignored. I figured fear alone would ensure Hank made it to work on time every day.
"You know Hank wanted that job himself," Sierra said, bitterness creeping into her voice. "He was going to restart his family's construction business."
That shocked me. Hank had wanted to start his own business? The man didn't have a good way with people or money. When his grandfather died, the business was closed as Hank's dad, Edward, had handled the books and the administrative side of the remodeling business and knew nothing about the construction side. Word had been none of the sons were interested. Had Hank asked and his father said no? That must've hurt. Maybe since his father passed away, Hank thought now was the time to start as he wouldn't be disregarding his father's wishes.
"Where's Hank getting the money to start a business?" The minute the question flew out of my mouth, I regretted it.
Sierra narrowed her eyes. "Hank said he had a plan. I'm not too worried about it."
"Weren't you guys behind —" I shut up. Sierra didn't need my commentary about her financial situation.
Her eyes became beadier. "I don't need to know everything that's going on at all times." The tone of Sierra's voice added an unspoken "unlike you" to the end of the sentence.
I was coming off a little holier-than-thou. I worried about her. Since I knew them, Sierra and Hank's finances were always topsy-turvy because of Hank's inability to keep his thoughts and opinions to himself. Heat surfaced to my cheeks. Kind of like me. I was lucky that my grandmothers employed me and put up with my comings and goings at times. There were times I was a bit flaky at getting, and staying, at work, though I did have good reasons for my lateness. Then there was the fact that I never cursed or screamed to voice my displeasure at customers. I kept the snarkiness in my head.
The only people Hank seemed to keep his cool with were his wife and children. Sierra had never mentioned Hank having an outburst at home or shown any fear toward her husband. If he was the same laid back guy to others as he was to his family, he'd have his pick of job opportunities.
"Maybe Hank can be a stay at home dad." I said, making my voice light and breezy.
"I want to be home with my children." Sierra opened the flaps of the box. "I peeked inside here, and there's some photographs and old books in here."
If Sierra wanted to change the subject that was fine with me. I wandered over. "Did you see anything saying who dropped it off?"
"No. I'm sure you'll find something that would give you a clue. Since we're talking about the town scrapbook, Georgia is finally letting us sort through Edward's belongings. Maybe you should stop over at her house and look through Edward's genealogy stuff."
"Her sons might want to do that themselves."
Sierra heaved out a sigh. "Georgia spends all day looking at those items and ends up calling Hank in tears. She needs to let go of it. It's stressing Hank out, and he can't get a decent night's sleep. It affected his job."
Like always, Sierra had an excuse for Hank. Another opinion I kept to myself. I wiggled a book out of the box. The leather was cracked and there was no title. I put it off to the side. "I don't know how removing memories from the house will help her."
"She adored her husband, and this project that meant the world to him wasn't complete. Georgia doesn't know how to finish it."
"Why don't you help her?"
"The boys and their antics take up my time."
"Sounds like a nice project for Hank and his mom," I said.
I wanted to get my hands on the genealogy items — the Brodarts had been in Eden almost from day one — but Hank and I weren't fond of each other. I was sure he'd want me in his mom's business as much as I'd wanted him in my grandmothers' affairs. Not at all. We tolerated each other for Sierra's sake. He still held a grudge over the fact I believed him capable of murder, and I'd never forgotten how he manhandled me in his anger. He was a man I didn't trust, nor wanted to cross.
Sierra's phone blasted out a siren sound. Frowning, she dug her phone out of her purse and stared at it as if some weird alien was in her hand.
"Did your boys change your ringtone?" I held back a smile which she might take for a smirk.
"No, it's the school." Sierra answered the call and paced up and down the hallway. She made quizzical and agreeing sounds adding in an "Is that so?" on occasion. She rubbed her forehead. "How can that be? I just dropped them off."
I knew exactly how. Not the details of what they'd done, but Sierra's three boys could destroy property, sanity, or patience within a couple of minutes. The trio wasn't nicknamed "the Hooligans" for nothing. While Sierra often complained about her boys' behavior and antics, I knew there was no way she'd appreciate me criticizing them.
Sierra rubbed her forehead, her lips turning down. "I see. Yes, I am on my way."
"That has to be a world record for the boys," I said.
Sierra glowered at me. Her phone trilled the theme of The Wizard of Oz. Tears filled her eyes and she swiped her finger across the screen. "Georgia, I'll be there when I can. I know it's important. The school called. Yes, the boys. No, they can't wait. I'm sure no one stole Edward's notes. You probably misplaced it. I can't help you look for it." Her frantic gaze fell on me. Her eyes widened for a moment, and a pleading smile trembled at her mouth. "Don't cry."
That did me in. Georgia was recently widowed. She'd been married for fifty years and lost the love of her life. She needed patience and attention. I nodded and pointed at myself.
"I'm so sorry I can't come, but Faith can." Sierra nodded a few times then ended the call. She hugged me. "Thank you so much. You are a life saver."CHAPTER 2
From the end of the block, I noticed the deteriorating conditions of Georgia's house. It had been a charming two-story house that looked like it was created from a picture in a fairy tale. As a child, I adored it for the whimsical trim and bright colors. Now the paint was faded, the muted tones giving the home a woebegone appearance. Shingles were missing from the roof and the white picket fence was gray with slats missing.
I pulled into Georgia's driveway and got out. The asphalt was cracked and a portion in the middle was crumbling, sending small pieces to ping against my car. The white paint on the grand columns on the side of her covered porch was peeling, and the walkway that had once been an intricate pattern of beige and reddish stepping stones was now loose with some cracked down the middle.
If Hank wanted to get a renovation business off the ground, he should start with fixing up his mom's place and use it as a calling card. Who'd want to hire a man whose mom owned a house that was falling apart?
The front door opened, and Georgia stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame. She looked terrible. Haggard. My heart broke for her. So many memories she had to sort through and decide if the precious memento was one she should keep or give away. She motioned wildly for me to come inside, shooting furtive glances to the left and right, like she was waiting for something to come out and pounce on her.
Georgia flapped her hand more furiously, not appreciating my calm walk toward her porch. "Hurry, hurry." Georgia hustled me inside, slamming the door shut and bolting the door. "I'm so glad you came. You'll be more of a help to me than Sierra."
I felt a twang of hurt for Sierra. "Sierra loves you very much and would do anything for you."
Georgia headed down the hall. There were boxes stacked up by the walls. The living room looked like it was in the beginning stages of becoming a contender for an episode of Hoarders. "She wouldn't be able to help with this."
I continued to defend my friend to her mother-in-law. "She's very capable."
"I adore her, but she has no experience in tracking down a murderer."
I slammed to a stop. "What?"
"I said Sierra has never found a murderer, you have. You'll be able to help me find out the truth. It's in Edward's papers. I know it."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Altered To Death"
Copyright © 2017 Christina Freeburn.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
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