When Benni’s stepson announces his plans to marry into the wealthy, influential Brown family, she and her husband are invited to the Browns’ sprawling ranch, Seven Sisters, to celebrate the engagement. But the party takes a tragic turn when a member of the esteemed family is murdered. While trying to unravel the feuding clan’s tangled past, Benni uncovers a shocking pattern of tragedy—and stitches a hodgepodge of clues into a very disturbing design. . .
Seven Sisters, a challenging pattern that features a single six-pointed star surrounded by six identical stars, was most likely inspired by an observation of nature—the Seven Sisters is a loose grouping of stars in the constellation Taurus. Although the stars in the cluster appear to be close together, they are, in fact, quite far apart.
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"But we're in love," my stepson said, his dark chocolate eyes burning bright with the passionate angst of a nineteen-year-old male in full-blown heat.
"Oh, Sam," I said, trying to choose my words carefully. "You're still so young." I reached down and scratched behind my dog's soft brown ears. Scout was a part Labrador, part German shepherd mix with a suspected itinerant coyote grandparent. He gazed up at me with adoring ocher eyes.
"You were nineteen when you married Jack," Sam replied.
There was no way I could argue that point with any sort of genuine conviction. I had indeed married my first husband when we were barely nineteen, and it had been a warm, loving relationship working together on our ranch for fifteen years until he was killed in an auto accident two and a half years ago. Since then, I'd moved to town, married Sam's father, Gabriel Ortiz, San Celina's police chief, and acquired a new life. A life that included being, or attempting to be, a proper police chief's wife, curator of San Celina's folk art museum, still occasionally wrangling cattle on my family's ranch, and often acting as the buffer between my volcanic husband and his equally explosive son.
Now it appeared love was in the air. Or a reasonable facsimile. And it wasn't even spring. Like the haunches of old mountain lions, the hills around San Celina were spotted with early September golds and tans, adhering to the old Central California Coast joke that this region possessed only two actual seasons, green and brown. Downtown streets were equally covered withnew Cal Poly University students flush with excitement, hope, and abundant checking accounts. It was a natural fact that the hills would retain their dusty colors a good deal longer than the students did either their excitement or their bank balances.
"So who is this mystery woman?" I asked, leaning back against the sofa in the Spanish-style bungalow Gabe and I had called home for the year and a half we'd been married. We'd recently begun the frustrating task of house hunting because though this house was fine for one five-foot-one-inch widow lady with minimal luggage, it was spatially challenged for the burgeoning possessions of a married couple. Unfortunately we'd discovered in the twenty houses we'd viewed so far that our individual opinions as to the perfect house were as different as his silver-streaked black hair was to my strawberry blond. Yet another mid-life relationship challenge.
"She's so great," Sam said, flopping down on the sofa next to me. "You'll love her. Actually you two have met." The wide, gorgeous grin on his gingersnap-colored face made me instantly suspicious.
"We have?" I racked my brain trying to remember who I knew around his age who might be in the running. The redheaded girl with the pierced eyebrow who worked weekends at Blind Harry's Bookstore where Sam also worked? The cute waitress with the wide blue eyes at Liddie's Cafe? The vegetarian girl in hemp clothing at Kinko's I'd seen him flirting with when I'd picked up orders for the museum? Sam, like his father, was a very attractive man, so the possibilities were endless.
I frowned slightly at him, gripping to my chest a suede pillow decorated with a bucking bronco. "I hate guessing games. Just tell me."
He ran his long fingers against the hair on Scout's neck, making it stand up. Scout's tail thumped agreeably on the tan carpet. "It's kind of complicated."
Apprehension rippled down my spine. "How complicated?"
"She's kind of pregnant."
I groaned loudly and threw the pillow at him. "Sam, how could you?"
He dodged it and went back to playing with Scout's hair, refusing to meet my eyes. "Dad's gonna kill me."
I didn't dispute his statement because I couldn't guarantee his dad's reaction. If not death, then tar and feathering was a distinct possibility. My place in this scenario, as it had been before, was to see if I could convince these two stubborn, emotional men to sit down and discuss the problem rationally. A headache, the first of many I was certain, started tapping on my skull's inner walls. I touched my temples with my fingertips and started rubbing small circles.
"Well," I finally said. "What are your plans?" Since he had just started his sophomore year at Cal Poly, worked part-time at my best friend Elvia's bookstore, and lived in the bunkhouse at my family's ranch, his ability to care for a wife and child was, to say the least, skimpy.
"Guess I'll just take each day as it comes."
Resisting the urge to strangle his tanned, muscular neck, I said, "Sam, you're pretty much past taking each day as it comes. You have a child on the way who will need bottles and diapers and health care and a car seat and ..."
"Geeze, Benni, I know all that. I was hoping for a little more support from you. Lectures I can get from my dad."
And you will, I promised silently. "This girl you're in love with, how does she feel about being pregnant? Has she told her parents yet?"
"She told her mom. Her mom's kind of a hippie-type and thinks it's totally cool. Her dad's living up north in a commune or something. He's a carpenter and grows stuff in his garden to sell on the side."
I didn't dare ask what kind of stuff. What kind of family was he marrying into? "Her mom lives here in San Celina?"
"Yeah, on a ranch over in Amelia Valley. It's a winery, too."
Amelia Valley was south of San Celina about fifteen miles, on the eastern side of Interstate 101 across from Eola and Pismo beaches and Port San Patricio. Famous for its temperate climate and excellent soil, it was some of the most beautiful and valuable land in San Celina County.
If they were ranchers, then they were possibly people I knew, if only casually. Our county's ranch community was a tight, small group. "So, who is her family? Who is she?"
He stopped playing with Scout's hair and looked directly into my eyes. "Promise you won't get weird or anything."
"Sam, I'm not getting weird, I'm getting annoyed. Just tell me."
He dropped his head and mumbled a name.
I ducked my head lower to hear him. "What did you say?"
"What! Please tell me you're pulling my leg." If I had another pillow within reach, I would have held it down over his face.
The absolute fear in his eyes was real. As well it should be. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "But we love each other. Really, we do. We want to get married."
"Sam, how in the world am I going to tell your father that you got one of his best rookie cops pregnant? You want to answer me that?"
"Not really," he said.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
“The patchwork quilt provides the guiding metaphor for Earlene Fowler’s Benni Harper series and…becomes the perfect emblem for a universal sisterhood where women’s hearts are torn and tested, and unite to create a resonant story of complex patterns and hard-earned grace.”—Jo-Ann Mapson, author of The Wilder Sisters and Hank & Chloe
“May be the best of the series…The emphasis on skeletons in a California family’s closet echoes Ross Macdonald, while the tone and feel of the novel will remind readers of Nevada Barr.”—Booklist
“Fowler’s regular characters all show significant growth; the mystery itself is satisfying both as a puzzle…and as a story about secrets buried in a family’s past.”—Booklist
“As in all of Earlene’s previous books, in addition to the mystery there are numerous other threads cleverly interwoven in the plot…enjoyable…well-written.”—San Luis Obispo Magazine (CA)
“Benni is feisty, caring, loving, and one heck of a part-time sleuth…a not to be missed view into the worlds of crime and the elite.”—Rendezvous
“Engrossing…a compelling story of families torn apart by divided loyalties.” —Publishers Weekly
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is the best book yet in this series. It's written with a lot more humor than the ones in the past, even though the subject matter is anything but humorous. I am getting to know Benni better and she is starting to flesh out into a multi-faceted real person. But, there was that typical lack of communication between her and Gabe that really gets under my skin. I wanted to reach in and slap some sense into her a couple of times, and I'm frustrated by the fact that the author makes a point of telling us that both Benni and Gabe have cell phones, but neither one of them ever seem to have enough sense to call the other one and let them know what is going on! They keep "missing each other" and playing phone tag on answering machines at home and at the office. Makes me wonder what the blazes they pay a cell phone bill for if they don't intend to ever use them!
Good book, enjoyed every page. One of those that gets better and better as you go.
After seven books, Earlene still keeps her characters fresh and interesting. I couldn't put this book down! Earlene brings her characters to life and that makes for great reading!
San Celina Police Chief Gabriel Ortiz is going to become a grandfather. Rookie police officer Bliss Girard became pregnant after making love with Gabriel¿s son Sam. Bliss is part of the close knit, prestigious and powerful ranching clan, the Browns. Gabe, Benni, and Sam are invited to the ranch to celebrate the upcoming nuptials. Also invited is Sam¿s beautiful mother. At the party, Benni senses an undercurrent of unease that ends with someone killing a Brown family member. Transplanted Texan Ford Hudson is assigned as the investigation officer. He expects civilian Benni to help him solve the case, but she resists the lure because Gabe hates her getting involved in a homicide case. Still Benni cannot help but start sleuthing, which places her in the line of fire. SEVEN SISTERS is a powerfully moving drama that will be award winning Earlene Fowler¿s breakout book if justice is served. Benni is shown in a different light than in her previous novels as she struggles with feelings of jealousy and inadequacy whenever Gabe¿s ex-wife appears. The competition between Hudson and Benni for top investigative dog is like a heavyweight title fight, this adding to the fun and the sense of knowing the star better. SEVEN SISTERS is much deeper and more complex than the previous Harper stories, earning it a special place on the keeper shelf that contains the other six books. Harriet Klausner