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By Jeanie Doyle Singler
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Jeanie Doyle Singler
All right reserved.
Chapter One"This is Louisa Townsend," Pastor Dark Ansgreth's secretary introduced the young woman standing in his office doorway.
Dark stood and offered his hand, noting the submerged sadness in Louisa's gray-green eyes. Suddenly aware he was staring, Dark blushed, releasing her hand and beckoning her to a chair opposite his desk. "How may I help you?"
"I need your advice." She glided to the edge of the chair's vinyl seat with the grace of a feather.
For several weeks Louisa Townsend had attended his early service at church, leaving immediately at the end, neither proceeding through his reception line nor signing the registry, which he had checked in hopes of learning who she was. Discrete inquiries had also failed to produce any information.
"What's the problem?"
After a moment in which apprehension about his ability to be of assistance seized Dark, Louisa withdrew a white envelope from her straw handbag and handed it to him with an apologetic smile. "Maybe this will help."
The envelope contained a letter dated the previous week, which began, "Dear cousin Louisa". Dark glanced up to meet her watchful regard. She smiled encouragement, a brief flash of light on her delicately freckled face. The letter continued:
"Let me introduce myself. I am Alexander LaGuardia. My father was Graham Townsend and my mother is Cecilia LaGuardia, which makes me one of the skeletons in the family closet.
"Like Romeo and Juliet my parents were teen-agers at the time. Since my mother didn't possess the illustrious background desired by the Townsend family my father was forbidden to marry her. Now, forbidden is a strong word since he could have run away with her if he wanted. But as a spoiled rich boy he couldn't support her without the backing of his family."
Casting another glance at Louisa whose gaze had shifted to the rhododendron outside his window, Dark noted her combination of delicate bones and bouffant unruly curls, the tailored jacket and slim loafers that spoke of money, her slender fingers and polished nails.
He returned to the letter.
"Skipping all the gory details, I jump to the recent bequest of my father who died whiz bang in a car accident. His original interest in the company had been sold to Spencer Townsend. However Grandfather had left him another ten shares which my father left to me.
"So what's the big deal? There were strings attached. Apparently Dad was not convinced Spencer disappeared of his own free will. Which means if I want to enjoy my inheritance I must schmooze the attorneys into believing I've done everything I can to find Spencer, for which I need hard cold evidence."
Dark stopped reading. "What relation to you is Spencer Townsend?"
Louisa sighed. "He was ... is my husband."
Frowning at the woman who sat so self-contained and forlorn, Dark returned to the letter.
"My apologies for presuming, but I figured you were the one person who would have as much interest as I in knowing the truth regarding Spencer. Since I'm outside the family circle, I can't get far in this without your assistance. I'd appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and put the matter on the table. A response, whether or not you agree, to the above address or phone number is breathlessly awaited. Your cousin-in-law, Alexander LaGuardia."
While Dark folded the letter, he considered the request. "How may I help?"
Louisa narrowed her eyes and leaned forward. "Without as he put it going into the gory details, I left Spokane where my husband's family live to get away from them. I never want to see them again. If necessary, I'll move to the wilds of Africa."
Dark leaned back in his chair. "So why don't you tell that to this Alexander?"
Louisa took a deep breath. "I don't know," she confessed. "I'm afraid I'd be haunted forever if something bad happened to Spencer and I did nothing about it."
Dark could appreciate her feelings since he still struggled with the circumstances of his wife's death by so-called accidental shooting. "Did you intend to meet him then?"
"I've decided to hear what he has to say. But I don't want to meet him alone." She regarded Dark with the expression of one about to ask him to heal her of a migraine. "Would you consent to come with me?"
Too many opportunities for misinterpretations and false accusations resided in her request, all of which could mean untold problems for a pastor, even if he were single and his congregation avidly interested in marrying him off again. "For what purpose?"
"I don't trust Spencer's family. They've always had ulterior motives. I'm not good at detecting hidden agendas. I need an unbiased observer who can help me separate fact from fiction."
"Have you responded to this letter yet?"
Louisa shook her head. "If you're willing, we could meet him at a coffee shop or somewhere neutral and safe."
"I can do that," Dark agreed. "When you've set up something, let me know."
Louisa smiled. This time it lit her eyes as well as her face. "Thank you."
A number of disclaimers rose to Dark's lips, but he smiled and nodded. When she rose, he stood and shook hands with her.
"I'll call you as soon as I've arranged with him."
* * *
Alexander LaGuardia bounced down the steps of his mother's dress shop, from the second floor office where he managed accounting to the showroom floor. In his hand he held the purchase orders for the newly arrived shipment of fashion merchandise, which Cecilia LaGuardia worked to unload from the shipping boxes.
"You're uncharacteristically cheerful this morning," she remarked with a shake of her short brown curls, rolling the clothing rack she had just loaded out of the way and moving another into position.
"Are you implying, Mama, I'm a morning grump?" Alexander parked a wooden stool in front of the rack she had finished loading and attached the papers he held to a clipboard.
She paused to give him an indulgent smile that lit her chipmunk brown eyes. "I simply state a fact." She bobbed her head briskly, putting a period at the end of her sentence.
Separating the clothing by style, color, and size, Alexander sat on the stool to match his purchase order to the garments received. "Since you're consistently chipper in the morning I must take after Father." He knew he resembled his mother in appearance, an unpleasant fact. He would have chosen to be tall, dark and handsome like his father instead of short, small-boned and fine-featured.
"I don't know, dear. I never lived with your father." Removing an armload of clothing from the box, she arranged them on the rack.
"Which gave him the advantage of never having his romantic image destroyed."
Cecilia LaGuardia paused with a faraway look in her eyes. "There is something lovely about a man willing to pursue and fight for his lady love."
Alexander held out a tailored jacket. "Are you saying Dad was a sleezeball?"
"He got better with age." Cecilia laughed like a small tinkling bell. "But by then it was too late."
"Then I must avoid that mistake."
"Son, you're thirty-four. If you haven't developed the character to pursue and protect your love, I expect it's a hopeless case."
Alexander noted the concern in her expression. "I guess it's a moot point since I don't have a lady love." Indicating the jacket, he asked, "Is this supposed to be a fall color?"
Cecilia nodded. "Saffron. It goes with those olive slacks and skirts, which reminds me. Lucy wants to introduce you to her granddaughter. I've met her and she's a sweetie."
Confused about what saffron jackets and olive slacks had to do with his mother's friend Lucy's granddaughter, Alexander replied, "I'm too tied up right now, Mama, to meet anyone's anything."
"And what makes you so busy?"
He sucked in his breath. "I've decided to take up the gauntlet."
"Gauntlet?" His mother frowned.
"Find Spencer Townsend." Alexander had dreaded telling his mother his plans, knowing how she felt about his father's extended family. Not that he blamed her. She had certainly suffered her share of pain because of them.
"Oh, Alex, I've a bad feeling about that." Her expression filled with alarm. "I'd rather you left it alone."
"But, Mama, if I could hawk that stock and scare up enough cash to start my own business, it would be worth pursuing." He flipped the page on his clipboard.
Moving another loaded rack toward Alexander, Cecilia asked, "How can you find out what happened to Spencer, when the police can't."
"Won't not can't. The police assumed he cut and ran. They're not trying to find him." Now, more than a year after Spencer Townsend disappeared, time was not on his side. Alexander, not insensitive to the difficulties, still felt the possible gain far outweighed anything he could see losing, time being the only investment he need make.
"And what makes you think anyone would buy that stock? It's not like it's publicly traded." She pulled another rack into position near her shipment boxes.
"You don't know greedy Josephine."
Before his father died in the car accident six months earlier, he had taken Alexander out for an extended evening. Graham Townsend had explained the family history and relationships. At the time Alexander saw no significance as far as he was concerned. However, he knew nothing then about his father's bequest.
Cecilia lifted another stack of fashions from the box in front of her. "Besides, I need you to run this business when I get too old."
Alexander snorted his disdain. "I'll be hundred years old by then. People still think you're my sister rather than my mother."
She flashed him a mischievous grin, then sighed. "How do you think you're going to find out what happened to Spencer?"
"I wrote to Louisa." Alexander moved the rack he had finished checking to an empty spot along the wall, guiding the next one into place by his stool.
"How did you find out where she is?" His mother sounded both surprised and impressed.
Alexander gave her a wide cheesy grin. "I called Aunt Josephine."
"You know her?"
"Not really. I saw her at Dad's funeral, so I know who she is. I called the company pretending to be the taxman, asking for Louisa's address. She was more than happy to sic the taxman on Spencer's wife."
Cecilia shook her head in dismay. "Alex, you're incorrigible." She jiggled the box she had just emptied. "I thought Louisa left no forwarding address."
"Not as such. But she had to leave a mailing address with Aunt Josie to handle legal matters — like the taxman."
"How do you know she'll respond?" Cecilia moved her empty boxes to the back end of the store.
"I didn't." He paused. "But she did."
Cecilia stopped to regard her son.
"I got a scrap of pink scented notepaper from Louisa yesterday." Alexander felt more than pleased with his results.
"What did she say?"
"Ah, if I would allow her to drag along a chaperone, she'd permit me to give her my spiel at a crowded public coffee shop."
Cecilia lifted an eyebrow and cocked her head. "Is she that stuffy?"
"Unfortunately I can't say. I've never met her." Alexander pushed the rack of fashions he had finished to the wall. "But I'd say she'd mounted her guns for a defense."
"She didn't come to the funeral?"
"For Dad?" Alexander positioned the last rack next to his stool.
"Or Spencer's parents?" Cecilia glanced at the clock then removing the keys from behind the counter moved to unlock the door to the street.
"You forget, Mama, I'm not one of the cherished darlings of the family. No one rushed forward to introduce me. In fact I'd bet no one knew who I was. A whole gaggle of women between eighteen and thirty-five were there. I had no idea who any of them were."
Cecilia came to stand beside her son. "Have you called her?"
He shook his head. "Gun number one, no phone number. Gun number two, no real address, just a p. o. box, not even an e-mail address."
"And gun number three, a chaperone."
Alexander shrugged. "I sent her a back-of-the-envelope note in accord with her request. Which means I need to take a trip to Seattle later this week."
"Then we'd better get these shipments received and ready for sale now."
* * *
Hardly three weeks had passed since Dark returned from a trip to the east coast. A vacation he had been reluctant to take knowing exactly what matter of chaos would greet him on his return. Since his arrival he had succeeded in surmounting his workload and integrating into his schedule. However, thus far he had been unable to even consider a number of items on his intended agenda. This was a good time.
"Sarkis," the voice at the other end of the line snapped.
"This is Dark Ansgreth."
Pierce County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant Davy Sarkis' voice mellowed and his careful modulation surfaced. Intentionally soft-spoken, an interesting characteristic since Davy was six feet five inches of conscientiously toned muscle. In spite of his own six feet, Dark felt like Mutt to Davy's Jeff. "Did you learn anymore about our friends with SAFETY?"
"Nothing conclusive." While traveling Dark had encountered a man he recognized as having been at the scene of his wife's death. His interest in this man led him to the discovery of a congregation known as the Society for the Advancement of Faith Eternal from the Temple of Yesterday, or SAFETY. "How about you?"
"I think we need to put our heads together. We may have something in common."
While away Dark had contacted the lieutenant in an attempt to find out if there were any congregations connected to SAFETY on the west coast.
"Are you still a single man?"
Dark laughed. "So far."
"How about dinner, five-thirty, Shenanigans on the waterfront?"
"That'll work for me. I have a meeting at 7:30." Dark checked his watch, 4:00 o'clock now. Time enough to tie up loose ends and get to the restaurant. He called his favorite babysitter, Sadie, a kind elderly woman, who was like a grandmother to Carley, his three-year-old daughter. Sadie readily agreed to keep her until after his evening meeting.
A rare cloudless sky and the mellow warmth of summer in Western Washington State accompanied him as he left his office, taking Bridgeport, Jackson and Narrows Drive to the North End and Ruston Way. Driving to the waterfront turned out to be a pleasure all its own as he wound along the placid waters of Puget Sound surrounded by evergreen magnificence. Too infrequently did he take the time to thank God for this extravagant blessing. Even the burgeoning population squished between the mountains and the sea failed to efface its splendor.
Making the transition from the beauty of nature to that of Louisa Townsend required no effort. Struck by her attractiveness the first time he noticed her, Dark realized the disappearance of her husband and her desire to escape his family partially explained the pain-haunted look in her eyes. However, Dark perceived them merely cracks in the façade leading to a closed door. If he had questions about her before, he had even more now.
When he arrived Lieutenant Sarkis awaited him in the softly lit foyer of the seaside restaurant. Davy greeted him with a handshake and a crooked smile. "At least you look like you've been on vacation. I can't remember the last time I had a tan."
Even without a suntan, the lieutenant had the look of time spent in vigorous activity and the outdoors.
The hostess led them to a table by the window overlooking sun-dappled Commencement Bay.
"I haven't seen Annaliese lately. Have you persuaded her to atheism?"
The lieutenant had developed a fondness for one of Dark's parishioners during an investigation in his congregation earlier in the year.
"She's on an extended vacation, since her children are out of school."
Once the two men were seated, the waiter handed them menus. Their view of Puget Sound was spectacular, a heap of rhinestones in the sinking sun. A cargo ship sat anchored patiently awaiting guidance into port and a sailboat drifted against the green of Vashon Island.
Once they had ordered, Davy began, "I've read the files regarding your wife. They concluded she was accidentally shot — an innocent bystander?"
Excerpted from Louisa Blue by Jeanie Doyle Singler Copyright © 2011 by Jeanie Doyle Singler. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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