The Queensville Heritage Society is restoring the once-grand Dumpe Manor. While Dumpe relatives and society members use the occasion to dust off old grudges, Jaymie Leighton prefers to adorn the kitchen with authentic Depression Era furnishings. A collection of vintage wooden mallets found in the house is a perfect addition to her display, but one also offers a late-night intruder the perfect weapon to knock Jaymie unconscious before escaping.
Though the attack has everyone on edge, nothing is missing from the house. Perhaps it was merely a vagrant who thought the place was still abandoned. But when Dumpe Manor’s resident historian is murdered with a mallet from the same collection, it’s time for Jaymie to turn up the heat on the investigation before someone else becomes history.
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“I LOVE OLD JUNK as much as the next gal—and probably more, if the next gal is your sister, Becca—but I just don’t understand how you could get so excited over a bunch of old wooden hammers,” Valetta Nibley said.
Jaymie Leighton, sitting with Valetta in the middle of the black-and-white-tiled Dumpe Manor kitchen floor, sighed as she turned each one over and checked it against a catalog of antique and vintage kitchen utensils. “They are not hammers, they’re kitchen mallets. These are antique and vintage, and several are in perfect condition. I have never seen such an oddball collection all in one place!” She held up one with a long spindle-like handle that was round in shape but flat on the bottom. “Look at this; it’s beautiful! According to my research so far, with the flat bottom, it probably dates from the end of the 1800s or early 1900s.”
“It’s still just a wooden hammer.”
Jaymie sighed and shook her head. “Et tu, Valetta? Et tu? Besides, they’re not even all mallets. This one is a pestle, and this one a muddle.” She held up one with a rounded bottom, and another that was flat.
“Muddle, mallet, it’s all the same. They are wooden hammer thingies.” Valetta scrambled to her feet, and Hoppy, Jaymie’s three-legged Yorkie-Poo, danced around begging for attention. Valetta picked him up and cuddled him. “Even Hoppy thinks you’re wasting your time. He wants to go for walkies!”
Jaymie looked up at her, serious in her concentration. “You know how important this is to the Queensville Heritage Society, Valetta. They’ve entrusted me to take care of the kitchen display, and I’m going to do it right!”
Her friend looked down with a smile on her face, her glasses glinting in the late day sunlight that streamed in the uncurtained window. She looked around the shabby kitchen: worn countertop, battered cupboards, water-stained walls. “You’d need to be an explosives expert to do this kitchen right, kiddo.”
Jaymie surveyed the space. Valetta had a point. Dumpe Manor had deteriorated over the years from the stylish Queen Anne manse it had begun life as, to a sad, crumbling boardinghouse that was eventually abandoned as too big to be practical. There were problems with it, but still . . . the Queensville Heritage Society had bought it inexpensively, using some of the money from the sale of the Button Gwinnett letter it had been given—the letter was extremely valuable because Gwinnett was a Declaration of Independence signer. But before the purchase the group had had an accredited structural engineer look it over, and he had pronounced both the foundation and the structure itself sound.
“It just needs some love,” Jaymie said softly.
“So do I, but at least I don’t look like a hobo squatter’s dream,” Valetta joked. She put Hoppy down and the little dog climbed into Jaymie’s lap. “I have to go. Brock has an open house tomorrow he has to set up,” she said, referring to her real estate agent brother. “So I’m looking after my niece and nephew.”
“Evil and Wicked?” Jaymie asked with a laugh, using her nicknames for Eva and William.
“They’re not that bad—no worse than you were at that age, and don’t you forget it!”
Valetta, about the same age as Jaymie’s older sister, Becca, was fifteen years Jaymie’s senior and had babysat her as a kid, but over the last few years they had developed a more equal friendship. “You going to be okay here alone?” she asked, looking around the pitiful kitchen and shuddering.
“I’ll be fine. I have my trusty attack dog, Hoppy,” Jaymie joked.
“Right, a friendly three-legged Yorkie-Poo. What’ll he do, lick a robber to death?”
“Hey, he’s saved my life a couple of times,” Jaymie said. She took up another mallet and examined it, as Hoppy sniffed it with interest. It was odd . . . wedge shaped and quite heavy.
“I’ll leave you alone with your hammers,” Valetta said and gave a wave. “You remember to lock up after me.”
“See you tomorrow morning,” Jaymie said. She’d be working at the Queensville Emporium for the owners, the elderly Klausners, on their day off. Valetta was a pharmacist and had her own counter at the back of the store, where she dispensed medication and gossip in equal doses.
Once Valetta was gone, Jaymie got down to more serious work. Dumpe Manor was going to need a lot of TLC, Valetta was right on that score. Several of the society’s members had been put in charge of individual rooms, so that they could have something to show the public in a month or so when they did a soft opening during Queensville’s renowned Dickens Days festivities. From the first of December to the first of January the Michigan town held sales at all the little antique and junk stores on Main Street, as well as, if the weather wasn’t too cold, a Christmas-themed music program in the band shell in Boardwalk Park, strolling carolers, and an evening of Christmas carols at the Queensville Methodist Church, everyone invited, member or not.
Most of the heritage society members had Victorian-style outfits in which they would stroll the town, and the more musical among them would sing carols and collect money for the society. Those who couldn’t sing—like Jaymie—sold baked goods: mince tarts, Eccles buns and Twelfth Night cakes.
It was early November, so they had lots of time before the house needed to be ready. Since they were only doing select rooms for the soft opening, the hustle to prepare would be minimized, but Jaymie, in charge of the kitchen, knew that hers was going to be a star despite the skepticism of other society members. Who didn’t think of the kitchen when they were close to Christmas? The heady aroma of cinnamon, ginger and cloves wafting from the oven, the warmth of the hearth, all the delicious foods that only home cooking could produce: the kitchen and everything it represented was a vital part of the season. At the next heritage society meeting she had to be prepared with a list of what was usable in the kitchen, and what needed to be replaced, and have a decision on the color scheme. The house was going to showcase different eras in Queensville history, but despite pressure from some of the society members, Jaymie had argued that the kitchen was not practical to show Victorian life, as attractive as that would be. They already had cupboards, as well as plumbing and gas, that were installed in the 1930s. It would be simplest to do a Depression-era kitchen, and she hoped that meant a gas stove so she could actually cook with it, rather than trying to figure out how to bake in a wood-burning oven.
Besides, doing a Depression-era kitchen allowed Jaymie to look for another Hoosier cabinet to buy, as well as Depression glass, commercial tins and other twenties and thirties kitchenalia. It was unbearably exciting, but a lot of work, and she had yet to decide on a color scheme. After examining the box of mallets, pestles and muddles that Bill Waterman, their handyman, had brought down from the attic, and writing down a careful description of each, she became aware of how quiet it was.
Dumpe Manor was not in Queensville proper, though it was within the official town line. It was about a twenty-minute walk from Jaymie’s home, set in a secluded wooded spot that you could just see from the last house within the town. A line of pines ran from the road alongside the house; across the road was a marshy wooded lot, and beyond that, more woods. Woods everywhere!
The property included a garage, shed and various scattered outbuildings, most of which would have to be torn down before they tumbled down. The heritage committee had debated long and hard about buying Dumpe Manor because of the size of the property, but the price was right and the extra land meant there was room to add an interpretation center if the historic home became popular. The land was also valuable because, given the barrier of the St. Clair River on the east border, the town was inevitably expanding west anyway. There was enough property attached to Dumpe Manor that some acreage could be sold to developers, netting a tidy profit down the road some years. It was a good investment.
The house was a farmhouse from about 1880, but elaborate and quite large in the true Queen Anne style, with gorgeous wood paneling in some rooms, deep baseboards and brass fittings. In another year or so the upstairs would be finished, rewired with modern necessities like phone and updated electrical, and the heritage society would have offices in two of the spare rooms. Haskell Lockland, the heritage society president, planned to make meeting rooms that they could rent out to nonprofits and small businesses.
But that bustling hum of activity was in the future; right now, at this time of night—about eight thirty—it was dark, quiet and lonely. Jaymie hadn’t noticed how much so until that moment. She stood and looked around. The house was settling, creaking and moaning about her. She was used to that. Her own house in Queensville was the same. But the wind had picked up, and it rattled the windows like uneasy spirits trying to get out. Or in.
And now she was being fanciful. “It’s kind of spooky out here. I think we’d better get home,” Jaymie said to Hoppy, and he wuffled his agreement. She had walked all the way, so she would need to get a move on before it got too cold and too windy.
She knelt on the floor and started packing up the collection of mallets, pestles, muddles, spoons and other wooden tools that she was sorting and cataloging. When she heard the front door creak, her heart thudded and her mouth went dry. Hoppy sat up and growled. To call out or not? Jaymie just didn’t know. Had Valetta locked the front door when she left? Well, she wouldn’t have, would she? Because she didn’t have a key and, in fact, had told Jaymie to lock up after her.
Crap. Jaymie had been so involved in her work that she hadn’t thought of it. Maybe Valetta hadn’t made sure the door clicked closed and the wind had swept it open. Of course . . . that must be the explanation for the noise. Hadn’t she just been noticing the wind picking up? She took a deep breath and stood, feeling silly. There had been a little trouble with people sneaking into the house to bunk down when it was known to be empty, but that hadn’t happened since the society had bought it and nailed an OPENING SOON—QUEENSVILLE HISTORIC MANOR sign to the porch railing. She would get her stuff together, go out the front door—the back door was not yet usable, since it was nailed shut and blocked on the outside by junk—and lock up after herself.
She put the wooden tools back in the box and shoved it off to the side, near the cupboards, then grabbed her purse and Hoppy’s leash and said, “Okay, Hoppy, let’s see what’s going on in this place!”
That was when she heard the creak of footsteps. A chill raced down Jaymie’s back and, hands shaking, she bent over and clipped Hoppy’s leash on his collar. She was getting the heck out of Dodge, and no two ways about it.
More creaking! She stopped what she was doing and froze, afraid even to breathe. Mrs. Imogene Frump, who was a distant relative of the Dumpe family, claimed that when staying in the house as a child she had seen a ghost. It was a woman in white, she said, who floated into the bedroom in which she slept and hovered over her. No one ever said the ghost made the floors creak, though.
More recently the house was said to be haunted by the ghost of Mrs. Jane Dumpe, the last of that name to own it. She was said to disapprove of all that had happened to her beloved house in the last twenty years, since her death, but surely she wouldn’t haunt someone who was trying to help restore the place! Besides, Jaymie did not believe in ghosts.
But she did believe in thieves, and she didn’t want to be in the house with one. She crept out of the kitchen, through the parlor and to the hallway, toward the front entrance, stopping and listening for footsteps so she wouldn’t run into someone. Hoppy was shaking with excitement or sensing her tension, she didn’t know which. She could feel his trembling all the way up the leash. Just as she got to the front hall, where the door stood closed, he began barking.
“Hoppy!” Jaymie yelped, tugging him toward the front door.
A rush of footsteps behind her made her jump and whirl. She got the impression of a dark-cloaked figure, then a blast of pain radiated from her forehead and everything went black.
SHE WAS COLD, shivering and hurt. Something wet was being slapped against her cheek, and something smelled bad. Real bad. And what was with the headache? She never got a headache, except when her mother was in the house. “Mom . . . you home?” she moaned.
The wet slapping continued . . . what the heck was that, a dirty dishcloth? It smelled . . . it smelled exactly like the liver treats Hoppy adored. “Hoppy, stop it!” she whimpered, pushing him away. Her eyes flew open, and she groaned again. Not only was there no mother in sight, there was no home. It was cold. She was at Dumpe Manor. She sat up and looked around and spotted one of the heavy mallets from the kitchen, the wedge-shaped one she had just examined.
It was so dark . . . what had happened? She felt fuzzy and confused and put her hand to her head as a wave of dizziness swept over her. “Oooh!” she groaned, lying back down, cheek to the cold wood floor. As she tried to sort out what was going on, a frigid blast of air swept over her. The front door was now open. She raised herself on her elbows and tried to scuttle out of sight as someone charged in the door and turned on a light. The blaze of the overhead pendant glared in Jaymie’s eyes, and she cried out in fear.
“Jaymie, what happened?”
Jaymie slumped back down in relief. It was Isolde Rasmussen, girlfriend of Theo Carson, a historian the society had hired to document Dumpe Manor’s history. Isolde was also a docent at the Wolverhampton Historical Museum.
The tall blonde knelt by Jaymie, staring at her with a worried look. “What happened?” she repeated.
Jaymie didn’t really know. “I’m . . . I’m okay, I think.”
“Oh, honey, no, you’re not,” Isolde said. “You have a bruise and a cut on your forehead and there’s some blood. Did you fall? Did you hit your head?”
“I must have.” Jaymie shivered. “I’m cold.” Hoppy put one paw on her knee and gazed up at her, growling uncertainly.
“Let’s get you home,” Isolde said, taking her elbow to help her up.
Jaymie swayed on her feet and Hoppy ran around her in circles, then to the door and back. It made her dizzy. “Hoppy, stop! I can’t concentrate, I don’t know . . . oooh . . . I’m not feeling well.”
“I’m taking you to the hospital,” Isolde said suddenly, pushing Jaymie back down on the floor. “You stay right there. First I’m calling the hospital to tell them we’re coming”—she pulled a white cell phone out of her jacket pocket—“then I’ll pull my car up to the door.”
The next twenty-four hours passed in a flurry of busyness that left Jaymie exhausted. Hospital, Isolde, nurses, doctors, MRI. Daniel Collins, her kinda-sorta boyfriend, hovering over her hospital bed, a worried frown on his gaunt face. Valetta arranging everything, including who would look after Hoppy (herself) and calling Jaymie’s family, reassuring them that she was fine. Jaymie was then ordered to go home and get bed rest, though not to her own home just yet.
She was finally released late in the afternoon into Valetta’s care. Jaymie had to promise to stay with her friend overnight before they would release her, but she felt fine, except for a bandage on her forehead and a bit of a headache. Valetta picked her up at the hospital, drove her back to Queensville and parked in the lane beside her cottage-style home. She had painted the house a dull green with darker green trim; Jaymie didn’t like the dark colors but Becca agreed with Valetta that the color was “age appropriate” for the small home.
Jaymie was as comfortable there as she was anywhere that wasn’t her own home, and she knew exactly where to go. Hoppy, who had stayed at Valetta’s overnight, was overjoyed to see her and bounced around her all the way down the short hall. “So I get to stay in the room we painted,” Jaymie commented, slinging her overnight bag down on the antique single bed in Valetta’s spare room. They exchanged help in August when Jaymie had needed a hand getting the Leightons’ Rose Tree Cottage on Heartbreak Island ready for a memorable dinner with her parents and Daniel’s parents. So Jaymie was familiar with the spare room’s redecoration; she approved of the mellow gold Valetta had chosen for the walls, and the sparkling white trim.
She picked up Hoppy and nuzzled him. “I missed you, poochy-pooch! I hope Denver is doing all right at home.”
“Pam is feeding him,” Valetta said, referring to Pam Driscoll, who was looking after the bed-and-breakfast next door to Jaymie’s home for Anna Jones, Jaymie’s friend. “She doesn’t much like cats, but reluctantly agreed.”
She had done the right thing, Jaymie thought. Denver, her crabby tabby, did not take well to staying anywhere but home. She set Hoppy down on the bed and pulled her nightie out of her overnight bag.
At that very moment Daniel pulled up to the curb outside, the rumble of his Jeep engine too loud to miss, and came bounding into the house without knocking. He had visited Jaymie in the hospital but had asked to visit her at Valetta’s, too. He followed their voices to the bedroom and appeared in the doorway carrying a big bunch of multicolored roses, which he handed to Jaymie. Then he took her in his arms. “You okay? Are you sure you should be out already?”
“Daniel, it was a minor bump on the head, and I’m . . .” Her eyes widened and she sat down on the bed. Both Daniel and Valetta were watching her with concern. Even Hoppy had stopped bounding around the room and sat at her knee, staring up at her.
“Jaymie, what’s wrong?” Valetta asked.
“Are you okay? Should I take you back to the hospital? I told you it was too soon,” Daniel said.
“Stop fussing, Daniel! I just remembered what happened.” She looked up into her friend’s eyes. “Val, I didn’t fall, I was whacked over the head!” Hoppy jumped up on her lap and licked her chin. “And I think it was Hoppy’s barking that drove whoever it was away!”
Valetta called the police and an officer came out to interview her. They sat in Valetta’s cheerful retro kitchen. It honestly looked like something right out of the seventies, with an Arborite table and chair set in avocado green, burnt orange cupboards and funky, café-style patterned curtains drawn against the November evening.
The officer finished up the brief interview—Jaymie couldn’t remember much other than what she had already told her friends—and promised the police would be looking into it. They would interview Isolde and check the house out. But it was a day later, and unless there was some kind of evidence left behind or something taken, it was not that uncommon for someone to be in the house that shouldn’t. Before the heritage society had bought it, the police had had to go there quite often to check it for broken windows.
After the officer left, Daniel stood up from the dinette chair and tugged at the sleeves of his Ball State sweatshirt. “That’s it!” he said. “I’m going to have an alarm system put in that place.”
“The society doesn’t have that kind of money,” Jaymie protested, hand to her now-throbbing forehead.
“But I do, and I’m not going to have you at risk.” He sat back down next to her and pushed a tendril of hair out of her face. “Are you carrying the cell phone I gave you?”
“Sure,” Jaymie said, fishing in her purse and pulling it out. It was a nice little gadget and, given that she was not the best with technology, Jaymie had been surprised how well she’d taken to it.
He grabbed it and did some quick work, then handed it back to her. “Okay, now all you have to do to call 911 is hit star-9.”
“Wouldn’t it just be easier to dial 911?”
“No, because I know you too well: you’d have to get to a call screen past all the romance books you’ve already loaded on there to read.”
Valetta gave him a look. “Don’t badger her, Daniel.”
Daniel didn’t notice the look because he already had his own gadget out and was doing research, making notes and setting up an appointment for a security specialist to look over Dumpe Manor. Jaymie sighed. As much as she liked Daniel, there were some things she felt she shouldn’t have to explain. “You know, you can’t do any of that until you run it past the heritage society.”
He looked up and frowned, then pushed his glasses farther up onto the bridge of his beaky nose. “Why?”
“Why? Think about it a moment.” Honestly. How maddening could he be?
“Okay.” After a few moments of thought, he shook his head. “I still don’t get it.”
Jaymie exchanged an exasperated look with Valetta, who was snickering into her hand. “Daniel, you don’t own the property. You’re not even a member of the heritage committee.”
“Why wouldn’t they want free work? I’m not asking them to pay. I’ll give them the security system. For nothing. Kind of a donation. Who wouldn’t want that?”
He truly didn’t get it, and it reminded her of all the times she had to stop him from getting her something expensive that she didn’t want, just to try to please her. She had to accept some gifts, just to say no to others. He had wanted to buy her a new van, and she had been aghast. It had taken a month to explain why she couldn’t and wouldn’t accept it. It was all well-meant, but still . . . “I’m not saying they wouldn’t want it,” she explained. “But you have got to go through channels, Daniel. You can’t make a decision like that for them.”
“I’m just getting quotes! There’s no harm in that. We’ll go there tomorrow and—”
“No,” Jaymie said, her resolve hardening. “You’re not going to get quotes or anything until you ask the committee.”
“Then you’re not going back to work there until we do get a system put in.” He sat back and folded his arms over his chest, with a mulish look on his face.
“What gave you the idea that you could tell me what to do?” Jaymie asked, genuinely curious.
Valetta, her gaze slewing back and forth between them, held up one hand. “Children, enough. Daniel, go home. Jaymie’s had a rough couple of days and is going to bed.”
Jaymie bid Daniel good night, but her heart wasn’t in it. Her headache was pounding like a jackhammer. She had thought she had things figured out when she heard from her police officer friend, Bernie, that Detective Zack Christian had left the Queensville police force for a job with the beleaguered Detroit police. She was sure that her attraction to him was what was keeping her from fully committing to Daniel. Instead she found herself more impatient with Daniel’s increasingly possessive behavior, as the deadline for her decision about their relationship approached. She had said she’d tell him by Christmas whether she wanted to get more serious. If he’d pressed her that evening, she would have told him no.
• • •
AFTER A COUPLE of days passed and the results from her tests at the hospital came back, Jaymie was confident that she was fine. There was no concussion, her headache had all but gone away and it seemed like her memory had come back except for the fifteen minutes or so that she’d been out. Unfortunately, because she had not remembered about the intruder at Dumpe Manor until late the next day, a number of heritage committee members had been in and out, obliterating any evidence of someone who ought not to have been there.
There was nothing the police department could do, and no answers. The intruder was likely someone just hoping to bunk down for the night, startled when they heard her in the kitchen. Dee Stubbs, a good friend of Becca’s, told her that she and Mabel Bloombury, one of the other heritage society members, had gone there the next day to do some cleaning and found a heavy wooden mallet in the front hall. Not knowing how it got there, they had taken it back to the kitchen and tossed it in the box with all the others. Jaymie urged her to call the police and tell them that, but it wasn’t much good because Dee couldn’t even remember which mallet it was that they had found.
Bernie called to tell her that the police agreed with the general idea that it was just someone looking for a place to spend the night. Nothing, so far as they could tell, had been taken, and there was a minimum of disturbance. The theory was, someone walked in the unlocked door and went up the front stairs, but they heard her in the kitchen and got scared. When Jaymie moved to the front hall, they came down the back stairs, grabbed a handy weapon in the kitchen—one of the vintage mallets—and whacked her, then ran out the only working door. Bernie offered to go back to Dumpe Manor with Jaymie, if she needed support her first time reentering the scene of her attack, but it was something Jaymie wanted to do alone.
It was just three weeks to Thanksgiving and three days before the next heritage society meeting. Jaymie needed to get back to Dumpe Manor to make some decisions regarding her recommendations to the committee. The thought of going there, the thought of being there alone, made her queasy, even though she would not have admitted that to Daniel or anyone else. She was sorely tempted to call Bernie back and take the offer of company—who better than a police officer, after all?—but she had to do it alone, and she had to walk. She was not going to change her habits, though she would practice better awareness of her surroundings and have her cell phone handy.
It got dark early in November. Jaymie prepared to go, steadying her nerves with some common sense; now that it was well-known that the heritage society was refurbishing the house, vagrants would get the message. She’d be safe there, she really would. And she’d be more careful. Leaving Denver the crabby tabby snoozing in a basket by the stove, but with Hoppy on a leash and eager to go, she set out from the back door of her lovely old Queen Anne home, down the path to the gate and along the back lane that served both as access to the homes on her street and as a parking area. Trip Findley, her elderly backyard neighbor, waved to her as he raked leaves by the back porch light. Hoppy tugged at the leash, but she said, “No, Hoppy!” and he stopped.
Her usual walk was toward the St. Clair River and Boardwalk Park, but the road to Dumpe Manor took her through the more modern section of town, where split-level ranch houses were punctuated by the occasional older home. Heidi Lockland’s midcentury modern ranch home was down a side street in the neighborhood. As Jaymie kept walking she passed through a section of town that was more commercial/light industrial, with a garage, the big doors open to reveal two men working on a car by a hanging light, and a small convenience store, brightly lit, with a few kids on bikes and skateboards hanging around the front. A dog barked and Hoppy quivered, on alert. But he trotted on without barking or tugging; her training regimen was beginning to work.
They left the part of town with sidewalks, then the houses and buildings dwindled and the road turned to dirt. Autumn had done its work. The distant forests were bare of leaves, but the scent of them was everywhere, an earthy nutty smell Jaymie loved. She breathed deeply; someone had a brush fire going to burn debris, and the air held the fragrance of a campfire. That was one thing she had missed in the summer that had just passed. Every year she went camping with a group of girlfriends from college. They headed to the same family campground on Lake Huron and had a long weekend of fun and laughter. This summer, one had been recovering from an operation, and another had been going out of state to a wedding, so they canceled and swore to do it the next summer for sure. She hoped they did. Jaymie adored the outdoor adventure.
Hoppy trembled with excitement. He loved walking in the country, and this, though they were only a few minutes out of town, felt like the country, with the twilight closing them in, and the sound level significantly less. A few minutes more of walking, and she was there. She stopped and stared up at Dumpe Manor in the early evening gloom. It was once a beautiful home to one of the town’s founding fathers, passed down through generations; then it became a boardinghouse and finally was abandoned. Like Jaymie’s house it was Queen Anne style, but Dumpe Manor was bigger, with three stories counting the generous gabled attic, and instead of being yellow brick it was sheathed in clapboard and dripping with gingerbread, much of which was going to need repair or replacing.
So far the heritage society had okayed an outside paint color scheme of gray and pale blue, and the work was done quickly, before cold weather made painting impractical. Windows were replaced, gutters installed and the roof fixed. With the new paint and the yard work done the house wasn’t such an eyesore. It looked better, though it would require a lot more work. Since her “little incident,” as Jaymie tried to think of it, more had been done. The sign in the yard, with unlit floodlights pointed toward it, now proclaimed QUEENSVILLE HISTORIC MANOR—QUEENSVILLE, MICHIGAN, painted expertly by Bill Waterman in the same paint colors as the house. The sign was surrounded by a garden filled with late-blooming chrysanthemums and evergreen shrubs.
And she was delaying going in by staring up at the place as the moon rose.
She took out her keys, mounted the steps to the front door and let herself in. Loud echoing footsteps upstairs set her heart to pounding, but then she heard a familiar voice, shouting, “Cynthia, not every room can be cottagey!”
Another familiar voice said, more calmly, echoing down the stairs because of how empty the place was, “Jewel Dandridge, you know I said no such thing. It would look cute, though. Picture it . . . the walls could be pink and white candy stripes; it would be adorable!”
Jaymie smiled. Cynthia Turbridge, who had opened the Cottage Shoppe just down from the Queensville Emporium, was there, and so was Jewel, the owner of Jewel’s Junk, situated between the Cottage Shoppe and the Emporium. The two were best friends and quarreled constantly. “Hello, ladies!” she called up the stairs, her voice echoing as she let Hoppy off his leash. He bounded about the house once, but then swiftly came back to the front hall, nose to the floor.
It was funny that she hadn’t seen a car outside, but she supposed the two women could have walked from town, like she did. Both were fit fifty-somethings, slim and active. Or they may have parked behind the garage, which was what the heritage society preferred, stating that parking in the lane while the ground was wet just made it muddier. Jaymie headed down the hall, through the parlor and to the kitchen in back, where she turned on every light she could. Hoppy was on a mysterious errand and snuffled his way to the box of mallets and pestles. There he sat down and looked back at her.
“Hey, you,” Cynthia said, bounding down the kitchen stairs with an elegant step. A yoga practitioner and instructor, as lithe and energetic as any college cheerleader, she gathered Jaymie into a quick hug. “You have got to come upstairs to look at what Jewel and I are up to.”
“Arguing over color schemes, it sounds like!” Jaymie said. “I thought Jewel was doing the parlor.”
“She is . . . we are. We decided to work on her room and my room together.”
Recipe for disaster, Jaymie thought but did not say aloud. The two women could never agree on anything, and their aesthetic preferences were completely different, one reason why Jewel, with her sense of grand style and knowledge of historical architecture, had taken over the parlor, while Cynthia, who adored chintz and lace and everything pretty, was given a girl’s bedroom. “I look forward to the results.”
“I’ve already got all the furniture, and no, it isn’t doll furnishing!” she stated. “What is Hoppy doing?”
Jaymie looked over, and the Yorkie-Poo was still sitting in exactly the same spot, staring at a mallet, one in particular, a heavy, wedge-shaped piece. Jaymie went over and pulled out the correct one, and the dog barked and pranced around. That moment, the memory came back to her . . . she had seen this particular mallet, one with a unique shape, lying on the floor near her when she regained consciousness!
It was the weapon used to knock her out.
SHE TURNED THE mallet in to the police and thought no more of it. What could they do at this late date, after several people had handled it and who knew how many people had been tramping through the house?
The days sped by, and the heritage committee meeting was almost there, the first one to be held in the house itself. But the evening before, she was going to have a quiet dinner at home with Daniel. They needed to talk. Sometimes it felt to Jaymie as if all they did was talk about their relationship: chat, plan, negotiate, explain, compromise. All well and good, except maybe they shouldn’t need to do quite so much of it. Some relationships just took more effort than others, her mother had told her, but that was no reason they couldn’t work.
He arrived freshly shaved and carrying flowers again, more multicolored roses. She met him at the front door, and while Hoppy bounced around their feet, he kissed her gently and held her for a moment. It felt good; that much she admitted to herself. He was a really nice guy, and she must never forget all his good qualities, even when he was driving her nuts.
She led him through to the kitchen, her favorite room in the house, and they sat at the old wood table surrounded by all her beloved vintage kitchenalia, as she called it, or “junk,” as her mom and Becca preferred to call it. The Hoosier was adorned with a glass rolling pin and some Pyrex refrigerator dishes in gorgeous colors, and the top held a decorative collection: an old colander on legs with a wooden pestle in it, some dried flowers and a few lovely old milk bottles and antique tins, as well as a set of scales out of the Queensville Emporium, from back in the days when the Klausners sold candy by the pound. She thought her kitchen was most beautiful this time of day, early evening, which in November meant the sun was down and the room was lit with pools of light cast by the pendant over the table and the task light over the porcelain Belfast sink.
“How is business lately?” she asked. Daniel’s software company was headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, and that was where his parents lived. They had bought a cottage on Heartbreak Island—a ten-minute ferry ride from town—just that summer and planned to fix it up. His mother had said, with a heavy undercurrent of censure, that if Daniel was going to be spending so much time in Queensville, then they wanted to be near him without living in the same house, though heaven knew there was more than enough room in Stowe House, Daniel’s historic Queensville home.
“It’s okay. I need to get back there soon, though. Our HR director is going out on maternity leave, and she kind of keeps everyone sane, so I have to find a good temporary replacement, someone who can keep the staff focused like she does. It’s not easy managing from a distance. I really should be there more.”
She sighed internally, hearing the reproach in his voice but at a loss how to handle it. She was not the one making him stay in Queensville. It was his choice, not hers. And yet every time the subject came up, the subtext was, she should want to marry him and move to Phoenix, at least part-time.
But she didn’t want to; she was happy right where she was and could never imagine leaving her home for any length of time. Daniel had bought Stowe House, the oldest house in the town of Queensville, a few years before, but had just started spending so much time in it that spring, when he began dating Jaymie. Since then she had learned he owned houses in many towns spread across the country. She had an uneasy feeling that this was a troubling pattern, the tendency to purchase a house in a town, spend some time there, then move on. They needed to discuss such things, and his expectations down the road, if she was to consider committing to a real relationship.
“You should go back and take care of business,” she said, keeping her tone as neutral as she could.
She served up dinner—it was an experiment from her old recipes, a salmon loaf made with canned salmon, bread crumbs and seasonings—and they ate in silence. Daniel picked at his food while she plowed through hers. It was pretty good, and even better with the mushroom sauce she had made to drizzle over it.
“Don’t you like it?” she asked, watching him, his glasses glinting in the pendant light over the table. “You can say if you don’t, you know. It won’t offend me.”
He looked relieved and pushed it away, then shoved his glasses up his nose. “I’m not much of one for salmon. Mom never made stuff like that. We were always more of a steak or pork chops on the grill kind of family.”
“Do you want something else? A sandwich?”
“No. It’s okay.”
“I’m done, too,” she said and cleared the table, piling the dishes in the sink until later. Something was in the air, and she needed to know what was up. “Let’s go into the parlor and light a fire.”
That was one of her favorite things to do when the weather got too cold to sit outside. Living in Michigan meant four completely different seasons, and she loved each one, adjusting her life easily through the frozen winter, spring rains and wind, and languid summer to her favorite season, autumn, with chilly nights and brisk walks through drifts of fallen leaves. Her home décor reflected the seasonal patterns. Comforting throws came out of storage to make curling up in an easy chair or on a sofa cozy. She collected autumn leaves in red and gold and ironed them between pieces of wax paper, just as she had when she was a kid. They were scattered over the dining room table in that seldom-used room.
But her own decorating stamp was most visible—after the kitchen, of course—in the parlor. That room hadn’t been used much when she was a kid because they spent more time in the living room, where the TV was. But since she had taken over the house she’d had the fireplace and chimney swept and her dad had taught her how to start a fire and maintain the flue. She lit oil lamps on the mantel and had a red plaid throw to keep warm.
A settee faced the fireplace, and Hoppy raced in and hurled himself up on it between them, rolling over awkwardly, then righting himself. Denver slunk in and took a spot on a folded blanket near the fire. He was getting more friendly, oddly enough, since Jaymie had discovered, in September, that one of the reasons he was so crabby was bad teeth. Ten extractions and nearly a thousand dollars later he was eating canned food and sleeping on her bed every night. He wasn’t exactly cuddling yet, but it could happen. Jaymie was optimistic.
After she lit the fire, she gently moved Hoppy over to a corner so she could sit next to Daniel. He put his arm around her shoulders. They sat in silence for a few minutes, but she couldn’t relax. She turned and sat facing him, one knee up on the settee. “Daniel, we need to talk.”
“I know.” He looked in her eyes, searching them, it seemed.
At least this time he had not cringed when she said that. It was progress, she supposed. Jaymie was uncertain how to continue, afraid that what he wanted to talk about would not be what she wanted to talk about.
“I’ll be going back to Phoenix for a few weeks,” he said. “And I think, if you don’t mind, I’ll spend Thanksgiving with my folks.”
“That’s okay. We already did Canadian Thanksgiving with my parents and grandmother.” Her grandma Leighton, in London, Ontario, had liked Daniel very much, but she hadn’t gone ahead and said, “Marry him,” like she had to Becca about her beau, Kevin Brevard. When Jaymie asked why, her grandmother had said, with a serious look in her pale blue-gray eyes, that she just wasn’t sure Jaymie was ready. Jaymie’s mom had shushed her mother-in-law, saying, “Mama Lucy, don’t say that! Jaymie’s my only hope for grandchildren.”
“What will you do for Thanksgiving?” he asked.
“I have a standing invitation to Valetta’s for every special occasion, if I can stand Brock and the evil twins.”
“They’re not such bad kids, just high-spirited,” Daniel said. He stared at her for a long moment, then said, “Do you want children, Jaymie?”
“I don’t know,” she said, honestly. They had talked about it before, and the answer was still the same.
He paused, but then said, his tone exasperated, “How can you not know? I mean, either you do or you don’t!”
Carefully, she answered, “No, that’s not true. Especially not for a woman. Let’s not have this discussion right now. It’s kind of early on to be talking about kids.”
“I think it would help if we knew ahead of time that our goals are aligned,” he said, stubbornly clinging to the subject. “I made that mistake once, and I won’t do it again.”
Jaymie knew he was talking about a relationship in his past; he had invested a lot of time and energy into it, only to find that she didn’t really ever want children, nor did she truly love him. Trish Brandon had hurt him deeply.
He screwed his mouth into a grimace and stared into the fireplace. “Okay, we’ll talk about it another time.” He sighed and squinted. “I talked to Haskell Lockland, the head of your heritage society, and he okayed me going ahead with the security consultant as long as I’m footing the bill.”
“That’s generous of you,” Jaymie said. She felt like they were tiptoeing around things, but she just wasn’t ready for a full-blown conversation on their relationship status. She had told him Christmas, and he had agreed.
“Are you really okay after that attack?” he asked, concern in his brown eyes as he watched her. He touched her hair, which she had worn down because she knew he liked it that way.
“I am,” she said, taking his hand, liking the bony feel to it. He squeezed, and she made a vow to keep focusing on all his good qualities.
“But regardless,” he said, in a stern fatherly tone, “I don’t want you back in that house alone until we have the security system in place.”
She pulled her hand away. Darn him! Why did he keep trying to control her? She knew it was genuine concern, but she was an adult woman, not a kid, and not his property. She took a deep, cleansing breath, trying to be reasonable. “I still have a lot to do, Daniel. I can’t guarantee I’ll never be there alone.”
“Stop! Let’s not talk about that right now, either,” she said. “We’ll just end up arguing.”
“We’re going to run out of things to talk about, if we worry about arguing over stuff,” he joked, but there was an edge to his tone.
He was so right, but Jaymie didn’t have anything else to say. Every topic seemed to be barred from discussion for fear it would lead to a conflict, and that was no way to carry on. So she would go back to a topic they had dismissed; one she wanted him to understand. “You’re right,” she said, hand on his arm. “We need to be able to talk if we’re going to be together. Okay, then . . . Daniel, I don’t know if I want children because I’m just starting to actually figure out who I am. I’m now getting to a point where I feel like I’m doing what I want in life. Maybe I’m a late bloomer, but that’s the way it is.” She shrugged. “I can’t help it.”
“But having kids isn’t the end to life,” he said.
“It is if you do it right,” she joked.
He smiled. “Okay. I’m glad you told me that. Just think about it; that’s all I ask.”
“Now, on the other thing . . . really, Jaymie,” he said earnestly, putting one hand over hers, “I don’t want you going to that house alone until I get the alarm system put in. Why take risks? You’ve been in a lot of trouble in the last few months, and it’s just dumb to take chances.”
Her spine stiffened and Hoppy, behind her, gave a little wuffle of inquiry. She heard a car door slam and then a key in the front door.
“Who could that be?” she said and got up. She hopped out to the hallway just as Becca came in with an overnight bag and box, struggling to carry both, plus her purse.
“Becca!” Jaymie said. “Let me get the box.” She took it and headed upstairs.
As she came back down, Daniel came out into the hallway from the parlor, where Becca was still organizing herself.
“Daniel!” Becca said. “Didn’t know you were here. I’ll go on upstairs and leave you two alone.” Becca bent to grab the overnight bag, which she had plunked down on the floor as she stuffed her keys in her purse.
When Jaymie saw the troubled expression on Becca’s round face, she knew something was wrong. “Come and join us,” she said. “We’re just talking in the parlor. You’re not interrupting anything.”
Daniel shot her a look, but sister troubles trumped boyfriend discussions. “Look, Jaymie’s right. Clearly, we were not talking about anything important. Nothing at all.”
Whoops . . . he was ticked off. She grimaced.
But he sounded a little calmer as he went on. “I have to get going early in the morning. Brock is driving me to Detroit and I’m flying back to Phoenix for a couple of weeks.” He turned to Jaymie. “I’ll call you while I’m there. Or you can text me. You do know how to text, don’t you?”
That was not a stupid nor insulting question, since she had not yet used her new cell phone for texting. Why should she, when no one else she knew texted? “I’ll try it out,” she said. He was still irritated, and she hated for him to leave that way, but she was anxious for him to go. It did not bode well for their relationship that in the middle of a polite disagreement she would rather he leave so she could talk to her sister.
A brief hug and kiss, and he was gone. She turned to Becca, who watched with concern.
“I interrupted something, didn’t I?” she said. “Honey, you didn’t have to send him away.”
“In the words of a Regency damsel, Daniel was being ever so tiresome!” Jaymie smiled at her sister. “Now, you can come and sit by the fire and tell me what’s up.”
“What’s up? I’ll tell you what’s up.” Her face screwed into an ugly cry as she wailed, “I can’t marry Kevin . . . I just can’t!”
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries
“A chilling whodunit.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Jaymie is a great character . . . She is inquisitive and full of surprises . . . I’m giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!”—Debbie’s Book Bag
“Well-plotted with several unexpected twists and more developed characters.”—The Mystery Reader
“Smartly written and successfully plotted.”—Library Journal