Since its inception, the Judge Deborah Knott series has garnered all the top mystery prizes and received overwhelming accolades. Now Margaret Maron presents an engrossing tale of Southern arts and sudden death . . .
North Carolina’s Randolph County is heavy with bright red clay and home to generations of skilled potters. Two of the best are James Lucas Nordan and Sandra Kay Hitchcock, locked in a bitter divorce after twenty-five years of marriage. Enter Judge Deborah Knott, who must settle the most exasperating part of any divorce case—the equitable distribution of marital property.
As creative as it was stormy, the Nordans’ marriage produced great artistic achievement that continued the legacy of James Lucas’s father and proud clan patriarch. Old Amos Norton is no stranger to tragedy. Two years earlier, his more talented son, Donny, committed suicide . . . in a manner so scandalous that Amos still can’t bear to speak of it.
Suddenly, amid the petty bickering, an even more gruesome death strikes the Nordans again. Violence stalks the family homestead as the sins of the past catch up with the Nordan family. Judge Knott knows she must summon all her considerable insight into the darkest entanglements of the human heart, if she is to stop a malevolent killer well-crafted in the art of murder.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The high-fired stonewares...although far stronger and more vitreous, were less likely to withstand thermal shock and could crack when heated or cooled too rapidly.
Turners and Burners, Charles G. Zug III
April is the cruellest month. Who said that?
mixing memory and desire.
(Oh, yes indeed, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. We know all about desire, don't we? And hurtful memory, too.)
breeding lilacs out of the dead land.
No, Whitman was When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed.
There's a lilac in my own dooryard.
Maidie Holt, who keeps house for my daddy, gave me one last fall. It's a sprout off her bush that was itself a sprout off the bush her great-grandmother brought from Richmond after the war.
The Civil War.
There were three fat purple blossoms on it this year even though Maidie didn't think it'd bloom so quickly after being transplanted. I cut one of them, gathered daffodils from the ditch bank and scarlet honeysuckle from the woods, added a few white dogwood blossoms, and stuck them all in a brown earthenware jar that used to hold butter in the springhouse when my daddy was a little boy eighty years ago. The flowers look and smell like Easter.
and stands about the woodland ride, wearing white for Eastertide.
My mind was looping through all the poetry I ever read in college lit courses a million years ago, anything to paper over the memory of last weekend when I'd gone hippity-hopping down to New Bern just like a horny little bunny. I'd even carried along a whimsical basket oferoticgoodies, an early Easter treat for Kidd Chapin, the decidedly sexy game warden who had me seriously thinking about marriage for the first time in six years. I had thought I wouldn't be able to get away till Saturday noon, but then things changed and I found myself impulsively heading east on Highway 70 Friday night, smiling as I thought of how surprised he'd be to see me twelve hours early.
like a guilty thing surprised.
That's Wordsworth. Talking about some bastard like Kidd.
It was almost two A.M. when I reached New Bern that night. I cut my lights and engine at the top of Kidd's driveway and just let gravity carry me the rest of the way, coming to rest beside his Dodge Caravan. To my relief, there was no sign of Amber's Mustang. (Kidd's daughter turned sixteen last fall, and having her own car had loosened some of the reins she kept him on, but this didn't mean she disliked me less or had given up hope her parents would eventually get back together.) One of his caged rabbit dogs farther down the slope let out a few yips when it heard my car door open. It barked again as the door latched, then fell silent. The waning moon was lost in the trees that rimmed the western sky and no lights shone from the cabin windows. A floorboard creaked as I walked across the porch. I opened the screen door that he'd left unhooked, inserted my key in the lock of the heavy cedar front door, and quietly let myself into the dark house. The main rooma combination living room, den, and dining roomruns the full width of the house, with a glass wall at the far end that opens onto a deck overlooking the Neuse River.
There was barely enough moonlight for me to make out the shadowy shapes of furniture as I crossed the room and I stubbed my toe on the runner of an oak rocking chair. From the master bedroom came the sound of Kidd's soft snores rising and falling. Shivering with anticipation, I shed my clothes, draped them over the nearest chair, and felt my way silently down the short dark hallway.
The bedroom was almost pitch-black, but I was so familiar with the layout that my bare feet didn't stumble as I tiptoed over to the king-size bed. A careful sweep of my hand told me that he lay almost in the center of the bed. I lifted the sheet and coverlet and eased in beside him.
He didn't move.
I gently worked my way closer till I could feel the warmth of his smooth shoulder, then in one fluid motion, I cupped my body to his back and slid my arm over his to clasp his chest.
And touched a woman's bare breast instead.
Both of us jerked apart with shrieks that could have waked the dead. They certainly waked Kidd, who'd been dead to the world till that moment.
Lights came on. She clutched at the sheet, I grabbed the coverlet as I hit the floor, Kidd dived for his pants.
"What the hell is this?" I asked angrily, pulling the coverlet tightly around my nakedness.
She glared back at me. "Who the heck are you?"
Then we both glared at Kidd, who was still blinking in the sudden light.
"UhDeborah? Um, this is Jean," he said sheepishly.
"Jean?" I snapped. "As in the former Mrs. Chapin?"
I don't know why I hadn't seen this coming. After the hurricane flooded them out last fall, she and Amber had camped in with Kidd for a couple of weeks. He'd sworn to me that it was nothing more than Good Samaritanism and that there was absolutely no spark left between him and his wife.
If these were the ashes, damned if I wanted to see the fire.
And she, now in full possession of the bed, pushed the pillows into a heap and lay back with a smug look.
"So pleased to meet you, Judge," she cooed.
With as much dignity as I could muster, I swept from the room in my coverlet, retrieved my clothes, and ducked into the hall bathroom.
"Look, you said you weren't coming till tomorrow noon," Kidd said when I emerged, fully dressed.
Shirtless and barefoot, his hair tousled, his tone was half-apologetic, half-accusing. I heard only the accusation.
"This is my fault?" I snarled. "Because I didn't give you enough time to let your bed cool off before showing up? How long have you been sleeping with her again?"
"Aw, come on, honey," he said coaxingly.
"Screw it!" I said coarsely. "And screw you, too."
With the lights on, I saw their empty glasses, a pair of blue jeans on the hearth, a black bra dangling from the back of the couch, a handful of CD cases
"Patsy Cline? Willie Nelson? You made love to her with my CDs?" Somehow that made it even worse.
I mashed the eject button on his player and scooped them up, along with a half-dozen more that I'd brought along with me over the last few months.
"You can send me the rest of my stuff," I said, heading for the door. "And yours'll be on the next UPS truck."
He followed me outside to my car, oblivious to the chilly night air on his bare feet and naked chest.
"Look," he said. "I'm sorry. I really am. I was going to tell you tomorrow. It just happened. Jean and me and what with Amber and all. I mean, it's like we've got all this history, you know? And getting back together would make everything easier, somehow. But I never meant to hurt you, Deb'rah. Honest to God, I didn't."
"Go to hell!" I shoved the car in gear and backed out so fast Kidd had to jump away to keep me from running over his bare toes.
I must have been doing fifty when I hit the top of his drive and the car fishtailed so hard when I turned onto the road that I almost lost control and flipped it. All I needed, right? Having to get him to come haul me out of the ditch.
That was five days ago. As I drove west toward Asheboro, I still felt a hot flush of mortification every time I thought about crawling into that bed, snuggling up to his wife. That I could have been so stupid. Left myself open to such humiliation. Allowed a game warden to trifle with my emotions just because he was good in bed. When was I going to quit letting my hormones rule my head and start
A sharp horn blast off my left shoulder jerked me back to the present. Even though I had set the cruise control, I'd overtaken the car ahead and was automatically starting to pass without checking my blind spot to see that a pickup truck was about to pass me. If I didn't quit stressing over Kidd and get my mind back on my driving, I was going to be roadkill right beside the possums and gray squirrels that littered this stretch of U.S. 64.
I had no business driving over fifty-five anyhow, what with all the construction going on. They've been trying to four-lane this highway forever, but seems like they only got serious about it these last couple of years. Some of the bits had been graded so long ago that they were fully grassed over and small trees were starting to grow up again. But lately, yellow bulldozers and backhoes had been busy here. Wide strips of land lay open in bright red gashes against the new green grass of spring. Over in Colleton County, our soil has so much sand in it that it's almost like the beach, beige to black in color. Here in the piedmont, the heavy earth of eastern Randolph County was nothing but bright red clay.
With all this raw material lying free for the digging, it's no wonder the area has produced so many potters, potters like theI glanced at the tab of the folder on the seat beside melike the Nordans. Sandra Kay Nordan, Plaintiff, versus James Lucas Nordan, Defendant. Both potters, married for almost twenty-five years, and now the marriage was completely over except for a judge putting the final stamp on the equitable distribution of their marital property.