Interior Designer, Maggie Schreiber, finds her Aunt Esther murdered in the quiet neighborhood of Pinon Heights.
In order to deal with her loss, Maggie begins to read Aunt Esther’s diaries, but before she gets far, most of the books are stolen. Then, her sister is attacked, and her house is set on fire.
At the funeral, Esther’s life was celebrated for her generosity and caring, but what was really going on with Aunt Esther?
Can Maggie stay alive long enough to protect her sister and discover what secrets the diaries hold?
Series: Pinion Creek #2
The body rested where she fell, and he stared at her, bile rising in his throat. Why wouldn’t she listen? In the adjoining room, a jagged piece of a china cup sported an unbroken pink rose, smirking up at him, taunting in its simplicity. He ground it under his heel, and wiped the dust on the rug. Everything had to be perfect, nothing could be left here to identify him. He itched to leave, jumping out of his skin, but haste now would prove disastrous.
A thud echoed through the house. He froze, his heartbeat elevating. Was someone upstairs? There couldn’t be. His palms began to sweat. Maybe it came from outside. If someone was up there, they would have peeked down the stairs by now, it was human nature. Which meant they could identify him. With a shaky hand, he grabbed a knife and started for the stairs. Only one way to be sure.
Footsteps tromped on the wooden front porch. He jumped, knocking against a chair. Cursing under his breath, he positioned the knife handle in his closed fist, an extension of his hand. Why hadn’t she told him she was expecting company? The visitor fumbled around until the doorbell rang. Maybe they’d go away. Or if someone was on the floor above, it would draw them out. Either way, he couldn’t risk any witnesses.
He forced his body to still. The bell rang again. Tiny windows next to the front door guaranteed he wouldn’t reach the stairs unseen. He edged farther back, listening hard, but the ticking of a stupid cat clock in the kitchen drowned out any small sounds. Were they leaving? He needed more time. Shuffling swished beyond the door, and a key clattered in the lock. No time to finish. If a witness lurked upstairs, he couldn’t do anything about it now. He moved back behind the body, put his toe against it, and shoved. It might slow them down.
Fine Designs was not as crowded as Maggie Schreiber expected for a Saturday morning, but there was still a line at the checkout counter. Balancing two elegant crystal lamps, one on each hip, she waited in line, taking in the ambience of her favorite store. Gleaming wood floors and artistic furniture placement inspired her.
The tan sofa off to her left paired with black striped pillows and orange accessories would be ideal for the ultra-modern design she’d planned for the Linden, one of the larger houses in Edward Blake’s new development. Or the same sofa with blue pillows and a comfy quilt fit perfectly in the homey country setting of the Spruce. Did she dare believe in a chance to snare a major design project like Star Lake? Eleven show homes. It could vault her little business into stardom. Well maybe not celebrity status, but rent on a storefront for sure.
“Can I help you, Maggie?”
Tori, the owner, smiled at her from the open till. The three people in line ahead of her had vanished.
Maggie blinked and, with a laugh, strode forward to deposit her purchases on the counter. “I’d better pay for these and get out of here before I buy out the store.”
“In that case, stay.” Tori waved an arm, indicating the entire store. “Peruse to your heart’s content.”
Maggie reached for her purse. “I’m afraid my eyes are bigger than my wallet.”
Tori laughed and lightly stroked one silk shade. “What classy place are these babies going to?”
“They’re a surprise for Aunt Esther.” Maggie pictured the lamps next to her aunt’s overstuffed couch. They’d be perfect. “I’d also like to put a pair in a show home I’m decorating for Edward Blake.” Maggie fingered the delicate silver bauble dangling at the end of a pull chain. “Can you order more if I get the bid? I’ll want some like these, plus a few others in the series.”
“You bet.” Tori eased a lamp down and rolled it in elegantly printed tissue paper, taping the side. “When will you know?”
Scrolled purple writing repeated Fine Designs, Distinctive Furnishings on the creamy-white packing sheets. Maggie’s fingers yearned to help, but she slid her debit card out instead. “I’m submitting next week, so I should know sometime after. Edward seemed in a hurry. I guess he lost his interior designer just as they were breaking ground.”
“How weird.” Tori placed the lamp into a box filled partway with packing peanuts. “Do you know what happened?”
“No. I was afraid to ask.”
“You’ll get it.” Tori’s voice rang with certainty. “Your designs are fantastic.” She winked. “And you use such quality materials.”
Maggie grinned. She couldn’t help herself—she wanted to sing or dance or jump. Esther would love these.
Tori smoothed packing paper over the second lamp and nestled it into the box. “Not to change the subject, but you said these were a surprise?”
“She admired them when we were here last week, but you know how she is. I can’t get her to buy anything she deems frivolous.”
“I won’t tell her. But I warn you I’m not good at keeping secrets, so you’d better not wait long.”
“I’m headed over there now, so you’re safe. They’re perfect for her living room. I can’t wait to see the look on her face.” Maggie bounced on her toes, unable to stop smiling. “She has great taste if she’d loosen the purse strings a little.”
Tori laughed. “My grandmother is the same way. She’ll spend thirty dollars on gas to save ten in groceries.” She snugged the shades in next and stuffed crumpled paper around them. “Can I help you carry it to the van?”
Maggie eyed the tall carton. “That’d be great, thanks.” The two of them balanced the ungainly box between them, secured it in her van, and slammed the doors. Giving Tori a quick wave, Maggie skipped to the driver’s side and hopped in.
The summer sun radiated off the pavement, promising another hot day. Even here in the mountains, temperatures had been hitting the low nineties all week. She reached for her sunglasses, tuned to her favorite radio station, and all the way to her aunt’s house, she belted out the songs she knew.
She turned down the music near the empty driveway and nudged her sunglasses atop her head. Had Esther parked in the garage, or did Maggie beat her home?
Maggie parked on the street in front of the pretty white house, leaving room for Esther’s car either way. A large front porch held a hanging swing—her favorite reading spot when Maggie was young. Next to it, a blue door showed through a decorative screen. She wrestled the lamps out of the back, wishing she had Tori’s help. It wasn’t heavy, just tall and awkward.
Unable to see where she was going, Maggie felt her way up the porch steps and groped for the doorbell. The box was too big to maneuver. Her arms didn’t reach around it, and one hand flailed in space, not connecting with anything even close to the door. Finally, she pointed to a corner toward where she thought the bell should be, and shoved. The resultant ringing loosened her shoulders in relief.
Her foot tapped to the beat of the song playing in her head. What was taking so long? She tried to see her watch. Not possible. The box slid easily to the porch. Much better. She tipped her wrist—twelve o’clock, right on time. Where was Esther? Maybe she got held up at the club.
After ringing the bell one more time, Maggie dug the key out of her purse and unlocked the door. The box seemed even more awkward when heaving it up and maneuvering it through the small opening, but she succeeded and shuffled left toward the couch. Her foot caught on something solid. The box flew out of her hands and landed with a thump.
The offending obstacle turned out to be a leather-covered ottoman Esther used as a coffee table. What was it doing in the middle of the room? And why was the TV on the floor?
Maggie rotated on her toes, a knot forming in the pit of her stomach. The drawers on the beautiful old secretary had been ripped out and their contents spilled. In the adjoining dining room, the hutch gaped open, and pieces of broken china littered every surface. Her heartbeat elevated. It must have been a burglary. Was he gone? And where was her aunt?
She moved toward the kitchen, her tennis shoes crunching on broken glass. The swing door blocked her view, and a chill raced down her spine as she approached. She should leave and call the police from a safe distance. But what if Esther was hurt? The burglar wouldn’t be here after all the noise she’d made, right? She had to know. “Esther?” she called out and hesitated, listening.
He must be gone.
Her hand shook, and her heart pounded as though trying to beat out of her chest as she placed her hand on the door and pushed.
It didn’t budge.
She pushed harder.
It still didn’t move.
Prying her fingers around the edge of the door, she eased it toward her.
Esther was lying on her side, a carving knife sticking out of her back.