Sister Eve, a motorcycle-riding nun with a natural (or is it supernatural?) gift for solving murders returns to the enclave she once called home and quickly finds herself confronting yet another mysterious death.
Someone has poisoned Dr. Kelly Middlesworth—a researcher on the life and ministry of 17th-century’s revered “Blue Nun”—and a set of irreplaceable historic documents have disappeared before they could even be examined.
When all evidence seems to point to the victim’s brother, Sister Eve sets out to expose the killer and learn the explosive truth those missing manuscripts might contain.
Chasing a killer is dangerous work, and as her two worlds collide, Sister Eve may need some heavenly help simply to survive.
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Sister Eve and the Blue Nun
A Divine Private Detective Agency Mystery
By Lynne Hinton
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 Lynne Hinton
All rights reserved.
The tea had arrived on a simple wooden tray and was left outside Dr. Kelly Middlesworth's room without a note or card but announced by a soft knock. The young woman now stood inside with the answered door held only partially open. She was wearing her nightgown and robe, having changed for the evening, and was hiding behind the door, assuming her night attire would be disconcerting for the monks.
One of the residents at the monastery, after all, was who she expected to see. It would be Father Oliver, she thought, or Brother Gary, who earlier in the week had brought her clean towels and a blanket; the youngest of them could never quite look her in the eye.
More than anybody else, however, Kelly expected, or rather hoped, it would be her sibling, Brother Anthony, who knocked so late. She knew he would still be observing the evening silence, but she hoped he would stop by and at least demonstrate an effort to make amends for the argument they'd had earlier at dinner. She hated that things were left as they were and she knew she was to blame, but she still hoped he would make the first move and come around to offer his forgiveness.
It had been strategy on her part to wait until the last minute to tell him, knowing that after dinner he was required to go to the service of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at seven, followed by compline at seven thirty. Once those services in the monastery chapel had been completed, she knew the monks would enter into Grand Silence, which meant he would be unable to speak to anyone until after breakfast, and by that time it would be too late. She would have already made her presentation; she would have already made his discovery public.
The truth was that she had broken her promise not to tell days before, right after he had shown her the discovery, by calling a colleague at the university to tell him of the unusual finding. She had spoken to Professor Peter Pierce five or six times in the last four days, only to find out during the last conversation that he had done some checking and had been given an amount, the real value of the discovered treasure.
When she leaned forward, getting a better look outside the door, she glanced to her right, noticing the tray sitting on the small table that was situated between the two hard-backed chairs in front of the window that looked out onto the parking lot. There was a simple pot and one cup on a saucer, a small spoon, and a little pitcher of honey, the only thing she liked in her tea. There were also two strings with tiny pieces of paper attached at the ends and hanging from the pot, tea bags, green tea or mint, she assumed, two of the favorites that she and Anthony enjoyed together every evening just after dinner when she came to visit him at the monastery. She smiled, understanding that the tea was a way for Anthony to say that everything really was all right between them. It was the perfect peace offering.
The young professor stepped out of her room to pick up the tray, and when she did she saw several additional cars parked in front of the long building that made up the guest quarters where she stayed. She guessed others had arrived for the conference. She knew some of the attendees had gotten to the monastery earlier in the day; she had even met a few, mostly professorial types, but also a few nonacademics, including Sister Eve, a local nun who came roaring up to the monastery grounds around lunchtime on a motorcycle.
A close friend of Kelly's brother, Eve was a colleague she had met before who had apparently left the community, according to Anthony, and was not wearing the traditional habit when they met. The two women had spoken previously on a number of occasions about their interest in and devotion to Sister Maria de Jesus de Agreda, and Sister Eve had seemed quite excited about the keynote address Dr. Middlesworth was scheduled to make at the early-morning session. She had even expressed her hopefulness that this conference about the venerated nun would finally bring news that progress had been made in Sister Maria's beatification process.
Of course, Kelly knew there was no such actual news of forward progress in the beatification process to share, but she hadn't told the nun. And with the news of Anthony's discovery that she was planning to introduce at her keynote, Dr. Middlesworth was actually just as hopeful that what they all wanted might finally come to pass.
She picked up the tray and turned back to reenter her room but glanced around once more at the parked cars, wondering if Dr. Pierce had left Austin, if he was somewhere close to New Mexico. In their last conversation he had said that he was taking a late flight out of Texas to Albuquerque, without his wife, Kelly recalled him saying, and was not scheduled to arrive until sometime around midnight. He had promised to meet her first thing the following morning; he would call and then stop by her room, and that way she could show him the pages before she gave her address.
She couldn't help herself and smiled, thinking about her colleague, thinking about how thrilled he was to hear about the papers, how he'd promised to host a great celebration party when they returned to the university, and how he had also shared the news that he was now ready to file for divorce. Kelly couldn't decide what made her happier, the discovery of writings by Sister Maria or that she was finally going to be able to marry the man she loved.
She felt her face flush with excitement as she turned to walk back inside and then stopped just as she entered, sticking out her right foot behind her to close the door. She walked all the way inside the small room and set the tray next to her laptop computer on the desk. When she did so, she pushed aside a stack of books, which consequently slid down, ultimately exposing the thick, unmarked brown envelope that had been placed underneath them.
Kelly looked first at the envelope and then back at the door, thinking about locking it, and then remembered that there were no locks on the doors at the abbey. She sighed, tugged her long, curly brown hair behind her ears, turned back to the desk, and lifted the lid off the teapot to make sure the bags were steeping. As she sat in the chair by the desk, she thought once again about her brother and particularly the argument they'd had in the dining room earlier that evening.
She recalled how Anthony had slammed down his dinner tray when she explained her plan to share the news in her keynote address, how he stormed out after she confessed to him that she had already told someone else. She thought about the awkwardness that remained in the dining room and how she sat alone at the table while the others sitting near her stopped talking and watched until she finally got up from her seat, left the main house, and hurried back to her room. It had been terribly embarrassing, and as she glanced at her watch, realizing it had been several hours since dinner, she could only hope that none of those at the evening meal would bring up what happened at her all- important morning presentation.
She breathed out a long breath, knowing that she needed to make things right with her brother. Even Peter had mentioned that she should try to make amends when she told him earlier about the argument, and she hoped that the tea meant Anthony had forgiven her. She reached for the envelope and pulled out the papers to examine them once again, still in shock that she had such a thing in her possession. It was hard to believe that Anthony had just happened upon something so valuable while visiting the little church south of Albuquerque. His discovery consisted of pages from the 1600s written by Sister Maria de Jesus de Agreda during an event of bilocation with the Jumano Indians. Kelly put the writings down and picked up the pot and poured the tea, still in disbelief that Anthony had kept the historical and religious artifact for her, hid the writings under his robe, and brought them back to the abbey to give to her when she arrived. She took a few sips of her brother's gift, recalling how he'd acted when he handed the pages to her, how clumsy and sweet he was, making her promise that she wouldn't tell anyone, explaining that he had to give the writings to Father Oliver, but because of their bond and her passion, he wanted her to see them first.
When she heard the door open, she jerked up, startled, almost spilling her tea and ruining the pages. She put down the cup, noticing as she did a slight sense of vertigo. When she looked away from the desk and over to the door, she was unable to make out who was coming in. Her vision had become blurred and her heart rate quickened. As the person entered and then closed the door, she assumed it was Anthony, assumed her brother had decided to reunite with her, but with the blurred vision she couldn't tell. She suddenly felt sick to her stomach, nauseous and dizzy as she fought for her next breath.
She watched without speaking as the person who had entered her room took a seat on the twin- sized bed that was situated beside the desk. She tried calling out, thinking that her brother would surely help, thinking that he would do something, but as she spoke his name, he never moved in her direction. Rather, he just sat and watched her as she grabbed her throat, trying to breathe.
She pushed aside the tray on the desk, the teapot, cup, and saucer sliding across the tray but not falling off, searching for her phone to make an emergency call as she continued to struggle to breathe.
"It's easier if you just relax," the voice spoke. "It can be like a vision, really." There was a pause. "You know all about those, right?"
The young professor felt her legs weaken as she slid off the chair, dropping to the floor. She never saw the night visitor get up from the bed and move in her direction, but as she lay on the floor, looking up, she thought she saw a cape, a blue one, as she watched the figure standing over her, the face veiled, gloved hands moving across the desk until they stopped at the brown envelope. She tried to cry out as the person placed the pages back inside the envelope and stood over her holding it. She felt her throat tighten and was unable to make even a slight sound as the person knelt down beside her.
"May our Lady in Blue bring you comfort," the voice whispered, and then she was alone.
The door opened, and Kelly thought she felt a brush of clothing lightly touch her on the cheek a second before it closed. Her eyes fell shut just as the darkness covered her, just as she took her final breath.CHAPTER 2
Eve closed her eyes and clasped her hands with the rosary looped around her fingers. She had not been able to sleep and had walked over to the chapel to pray. It was dark and quiet in the narrow room, the only light coming from the small votive candles burning at the prayer station on the east side and from the large candle burning inside the red glass cylinder next to the altar of repose where the reserve sacrament was kept. The shadows danced across the wall, filling the space around the Benedictine nun standing in front of the second pew.
She pulled out the long wooden kneeler and placed it in front of her before slowly lowering herself onto it. Her head was covered but not with her veil. She was not in her habit. Instead, Eve was wearing what had become her new work attire since leaving the abbey, her private detective uniform: jeans and a long-sleeved flannel shirt, a gray hoodie that supplied the covering for her head, her old cowboy boots, a leather belt, and a jacket. In actuality, since she was still a nun, she could in good faith wear the long tunic and veil. She still had it back at her father's home, but when she was packing for the weekend, it somehow didn't feel right to wear it when she knew she would be at the monastery only for a two-day conference. She had not planned to stay, not yet, anyway. She was still in the period of time dedicated to her discernment. And presently, things were even harder than they had ever been.
Eve had talked to Father Oliver several times since moving back to Madrid, had taken another leave of absence since her father's surgical amputation, and then was given another couple of weeks before a decision had to be made. She was going to have to choose which path she wanted to take: being a private detective with her father, Captain Jackson Divine, or keeping her vows and remaining a Benedictine nun.
However, now that the monastery no longer housed the women, the result of a decree handed down by the New Mexico diocese months prior to this return visit, if she decided to put the habit back on, Eve wouldn't be making a decision just to return to the religious life, she would be making a decision also to leave her beloved home state of New Mexico. This was the reason she was given more time for discernment. If she kept her vows, she would have to transfer to another Benedictine convent. She would not be able to stay in Pecos as a nun even if she wanted to. This decision carried more weight than ever.
"It's no good," she said, shaking her head and rising. "I can't sleep and I can't pray."
Even as she tried to call out the familiar words, her mind kept racing, thinking about the cases she had solved with her father, how much she enjoyed the detective work, and thinking about the other sisters who had left the order, of how lonesome it felt without them there. A couple of the women, Sister Vivian and Sister Jeanne, had left the religious life altogether, angry with the decision that forced their departure. And the rest of the nuns had chosen other convents, moved away, the new housing at the monastery originally built for them now turned into guest quarters.
It was all so confusing and overwhelming. She hadn't been sure she wanted to remain in the religious life as a nun, and now, even before she was prepared to make her decision, she was having to face this terrible fate handed to the sisters in her own community. "Maybe this is the sign I was looking for," she said out loud. "Maybe this is more than enough to let me know that I should revoke my vows."
Eve got up from the kneeling bench and sat on the pew, remembering the meeting Father Oliver had called with members of the monastery, herself included. She recalled his words: "Our great experiment of men and women living together, being in community together, is over. The archbishop has made his ruling; the nuns have to go."
"But it's not just an experiment," one of the women had contested. "This worked. We worked."
Father Oliver had given no response.
"Can't you say something? Can't we fight this?" Eve had demanded.
"They didn't ask for my opinion any more than they asked for yours," he had explained to the monks and the nuns. "We cannot fight. We must only obey. It is in our vows to do so."
Eve leaned back, placing the rosary in the front pocket of her shirt, and looked around the chapel where she had prayed and sung and received Communion for almost all of her adult life. It was the center of community worship at Pecos, just like the dining hall had been the center of community life. It was true, she thought; she missed that part of her vocational life. She missed living in community, missed being with other men and women devoted to the Christian practice, devoted to the Benedictine rule, devoted to living and serving together, but she also realized that she didn't miss it enough to be excited about joining a new convent.
She knew that she wasn't twenty years old any longer, and the thought of starting over, meeting new nuns, working with a new mother superior, none of that was appealing to Sister Evangeline. She knew that it had been hard just getting used to her father again, living with him, and she couldn't imagine starting over with a group of women she didn't know. She also knew that it was going to be very difficult for her to accept the decision of the diocese with devout submission like the others. She had written a letter to the archbishop to complain, and whenever she thought about it, the anger took over. She sighed; it was going to be a long night, she guessed, without sleep and without being able to pray.
Excerpted from Sister Eve and the Blue Nun by Lynne Hinton. Copyright © 2016 Lynne Hinton. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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