I spent the last leg of my trip from Philly, driving southwest from St. Louis to Dogwood Springs, trying not to get pinned in between semis and second-guessing my move to a small town in Missouri.
At first, when I got the job in Dogwood Springs, I’d been excited. But somewhere along the drive out—maybe in Indiana—doubts had set in. What if moving here was a mistake?
Over the past couple of years, I’d made a lot of mistakes. When I first noticed things beginning to sour in my marriage, I ignored the problem, focusing all my attention on my job as visitor services coordinator at the Henry C. Branch House, a prestigious colonial-era home and museum in Philadelphia.
After Reggie admitted he’d been cheating on me and said he wanted a divorce, I blundered on, numbed by the pain of having to work every day at the museum with both him and his girlfriend, a woman eight years younger than me and nine years younger than Reggie. Worse yet, probably because I was trying to avoid being around him, I didn’t pick up on the fact that as time passed, Reggie was busy convincing our boss, the owner of the Branch House, that my position was no longer in line with the current mission of the organization. In January, a month after our divorce was final, I was out of a job. A few weeks later, Reggie’s girlfriend got a massive promotion to a position almost identical to my previous job.
And, as a final massive misstep, I allowed the divorce and the job loss to shake my confidence so deeply that I flubbed my one chance at a great new job, the interview I managed to get at the Smithsonian.
So, yeah, a lot of mistakes.
Mistakes that left me, newly single Libby Ballard, on my own, starting over as the director of a small history museum in Dogwood Springs, Missouri, my mother’s hometown.
Not where I’d hoped to be professionally when I hit thirty-two.
About ten miles from Dogwood Springs, I drew in a deep breath and raised my chin. For better or worse, the decision was made. I’d felt excited about the position when I was here for the interview. Maybe all this uncertainty was simply nerves.
I left Interstate 44 and pulled into town with three bulging suitcases, a few pieces of furniture, a stereo system with a turntable that had belonged to my dad in college, a mountain of cardboard moving boxes, and my mother’s family pearls, which she’d given me when I turned twenty-one. With the help of GPS, I managed to drive the U-Haul and my silver Camry, which I was pulling on a hitch, down the narrow side streets to my new apartment, the ground floor of a plain, two-story house built in 1900.
My new place wasn’t anything fancy, but Dogwood Springs did hold promise. The community, known as “the prettiest town in Missouri,” was a tourist mecca. People came to see the springs, to stay at the quaint bed and breakfasts, to visit the nearby winery, and to shop and dine in the beautiful downtown.
Even Elm Street, where I’d be living, was quite nice. The street was lined with older homes, some lovingly refurbished, and some, like the house I would share with an upstairs neighbor, that could use some TLC. But no matter how fancy the house, the yards and porches were filled with color. Even my simple rental had a pot of black-eyed Susans and purple petunias by the mailbox. Well-established trees shaded the sidewalk on both sides of the street, offering relief from the summer heat.
After popping the last of my Advil, I helped the movers—three teenage grandsons of a friend of my mom’s who happened to be free this first Saturday in June—unload the van. When the one who was in college offered me a lift back from the van drop-off spot, I gratefully accepted. Once we returned to my new apartment, I tipped him an extra twenty and went inside, trying to picture myself living in the space.
A small entryway opened to a door to my unit and stairs to the second floor. My front door led into the living room, and I had one bedroom off to the right. A bathroom and closet were located behind the bedroom, and the kitchen, with a door to the backyard, was behind the living room. A window unit air-conditioner chugged away in one of the tall living room windows. Not central air, but it seemed to be doing the job. And the place was spotless. Not even a cobweb on a light fixture. Believe me, I’m no fan of spiders, so I checked.
It wasn’t much space, but it was bigger than the apartment I’d gotten when my husband and I separated. At the time, I’d let my ex keep the bigger pieces, bargaining for some of the better small antiques, like the marble-topped table I used as my nightstand.
After looking around, I emptied a single box, the one marked “essentials,” which held my favorite black tea, imported from Yorkshire, England, along with a mug, my tea kettle, bedding, shower curtain and towels, toilet paper, and a package of shortbread cookies I’d brought along for emergencies.
At that point, the thought of going to the store for groceries and opening boxes to find dishes was out of the question. I searched the internet, found a pizza place, and ordered a thin-crust mushroom and black olive and, with a slight nod to good health, a house salad. Maybe after some dinner, I’d rebound and make a grocery run.
I called to let my mom and dad know I’d arrived safely and collapsed onto one of the few large pieces of furniture I’d hauled from Philly, the couch my ex and I had once bought for our family room.
Half an hour later, a knock on the door from the entryway jerked me awake.
I blinked, startled by the unfamiliar sight of the cardboard boxes filling my new home and almost positive I’d locked the door from the outside to the entryway. I dug my wallet from the bottom of my oversized purse and peeked out the narrow window beside my front door.
A blond woman about my age stood in the entryway, holding a stack of napkins, a small salad container, and a pizza box. Not one of those thermal pizza carriers, just the box.
I opened the door. “Hi. What do I owe you?”
“Nothing.” She grinned at me. “I’m Cleo Anderson, your housemate. I just got home and saw the delivery guy. I haven’t even been upstairs yet.” Her words bubbled out as she handed me the pizza box, salad, and napkins.
“Oh, thanks. Libby Ballard.” I tapped my chest. “Let me pay you.”
“Nah, we’re good. Hold on, I’ve got a housewarming gift for you.”
Cleo darted up the stairs to her apartment, and her golden retriever wriggled its way into my living room.
I flipped over the one cardboard box I’d emptied, positioned it near the couch as a makeshift coffee table, and set the pizza box on top.
Cleo’s dog rubbed my leg until I petted it, then sniffed near the pizza box.
I told it a firm “No.”
It walked away from the pizza and made quick work of checking every room of my apartment. Returning to the living room, it tipped its head at me, perhaps wondering where Cleo had gone, and flopped down in front of the fireplace.
“I’m back,” Cleo called out loudly.
I hurried to the entry and found her standing at my door with her arms full.
She handed me a bag that held a half gallon of milk, butter, a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs, and a jar of peanut butter, then followed me into the kitchen and held up a bottle of Pinot Noir and two red Solo cups. “Welcome to 46 North Elm Street.”
A rush of warmth filled my chest. “Wow. Thank you.” I loaded the perishables into the fridge, truly touched by the welcome.
Over the past year, I’d gone through some lonely times. My ex got more than his fair share of our “couple friends,” and my best friend in Philly recently had her first child and disappeared into diapers, late-night feedings, and Mommy-and-me outings.
I backed out of the fridge. “This is so kind of you.”
Cleo shrugged. “This house is old and has some issues. But I love living here, and I hope you like it too.”
“Well, I do like a house with history.” I thought of my antique pie-crust table and the three boxes of LPs from the ’70s that I had yet to unpack. “Actually, anything with history.”
“That fits. You’re the new director of the local history museum, right?”
I paused. “Starting Monday. How did you know?”
“The landlord’s a cousin of mine. He told me.”
I led her into the living room, gestured to the couch, and opened the pizza box. “Would you like a slice?”
“I already had dinner at my parents’, but maybe one.” She tipped her head toward the wine bottle. “Shall I open that? It’s a screw top.”
“After today, a little wine sounds wonderful.” I slid a slice of pizza onto a napkin, opened my salad container, and drizzled on the dressing.
Cleo poured some wine in each cup, handed one to me, and sat down, then bounced back up to take a piece of pizza.
She struck me as one of those high-energy people who talked fast, worked fast, and probably could eat an extra slice of pizza anytime she wanted without gaining an ounce. She was taller than me, maybe 5’8″ to my 5’5″, and slimmer. Her blond hair was cut in a pixie with long bangs, far more stylish than the shoulder-length bob I’d worn for years. She had skin almost as light as mine, although I’d probably win out in a contest to see who got sunburned the fastest. Her oversized glasses gave her a dramatic air, and even in tan capris, tennis shoes, and a cobalt blue T-shirt, she somehow looked pulled together.
“This is much more fun than unpacking.” I raised my cup.
“I’m glad we have a chance to get to know each other.” She touched her cup to mine as if to say cheers and took a quick sip. “So, tell me about yourself.”
I settled farther back into the corner of the couch. “Well, I’m 32, divorced, born in Columbus, Ohio, and until three days ago, I lived in Philly.”
“And your mother was Adelaide Dorsett before she married, right?”
“She was.” I tried to look nonchalant, but Cleo must have noticed my surprise.
“You’ll be shocked how much people know about you, living in a small town. I used to hate it, but after a while, I got used to it. And you, of course, being related to Elsie, are practically royalty.”
Elsie Dorsett, my great-great grandmother and a former mayor of Dogwood Springs, had instigated many of the changes that made the town so attractive to tourists. Apparently, that ancestry was still a big deal. Not quite big enough to be royalty, though.
“I’ll have to unpack my crown.” I chuckled, snagged another napkin, and wiped my fingers. “So, what about you?”
“I run a hair salon, creatively named Cleo’s.” She grinned. “I’m 30, I’ve never been married, and I’ve lived here all my life except for eight years in my late teens and early twenties when I studied hair design and worked at a salon in New York City.”
Ahh, she was a hair stylist. That explained why her honey-gold hair had perfect highlights and lowlights, as opposed to my own hair, which was plain dark brown. “I have to say, I’m surprised you moved back.”
“So were a lot of other people.” Cleo rolled her eyes.
“And what about your dog? What’s its name?”
Cleo looked over at the golden retriever, lying contentedly in front of the fireplace. “Oh, that’s Bella. She’s not mine. She belonged to the man who used to live in this apartment, Don Felding. He was quite elderly and passed away.”
A dull ache formed in the back of my throat. No wonder the dog had wandered through my apartment. She was probably searching for her former owner. “Poor Bella.”
“I know.” Cleo’s face clouded. “She’s the sweetest dog ever. I should have told you who she was before you let her in. It feels so natural to have her here that I didn’t think of it at first. She lives with Don’s daughter, Melinda, in a house that’s maybe eight blocks away.” Cleo pointed the direction of my bedroom, which I thought was south. “She works at a hospital up in Jefferson City, an hour away.”
I called the dog over, found a number on the tag attached to her collar, and grabbed my cell phone. “I’ll let Melinda know Bella’s here.” After a brief conversation, I hung up. “She says she’ll be by to get her in a couple of hours once her shift is over and she makes the drive home.”
Bella looked up at me.
I ran a hand over the soft fur between her ears. She was a beautiful dog, well-behaved and gentle, and she seemed to bask in my attention. If she was going to be here a while, the least I could do was offer her some water.
I opened a box marked “Dishes,” unwrapped a blue-flowered serving bowl, and filled it with water from the kitchen tap.
Bella took a long drink, then returned to the fireplace and laid down with a soft snuffle.
“I have a feeling,” Cleo said as I returned to the couch, “that Bella really misses Don.”
“I bet. Change is hard.” I should know. Getting divorced and losing my job were hard enough, and now I’d moved. And as far as prestige went, my new position in Dogwood Springs was a cliff-drop down from my role at the Henry C. Branch House.
Plus, small town life was bound to be different, possibly a bit dull. I was determined to do my best, though, to adjust.
Cleo and I visited a while longer and, between us, ate half the pizza. Not long after she went upstairs, Melinda Felding arrived, apologized profusely, explained that her backyard gate might not have been latched properly, and called to Bella.
The big dog stopped to rub her head against my leg, looked up at me with doleful eyes, and followed Melinda to her car.
I waved and went back inside, my heart heavy.
I made up my bed, took a hot shower, and was asleep within five minutes.
The next day arrived bright and sunny, and as soon as I got dressed, I stepped out onto the concrete front porch of the house. The humidity had yet to arrive, the sky was a vivid blue, and the trees on Elm Street—which were actually mostly maples—were a rich green. I watched a robin yank a worm out of the front yard and then went back inside.
I dawdled over breakfast, working a crossword puzzle on my phone, and then unpacked the kitchen. A little before twelve, I ate a peanut butter sandwich and moved on to unboxing my clothes. I laid out a black skirt, black flats, and my favorite green shirt, the one that was the exact color of my eyes, to wear the next day, my first day at the museum.
By three that afternoon, I’d made good progress unpacking my clothes. I decided to reward my efforts with a drive around Dogwood Springs.
I went out my kitchen door, passed the outside metal stairs that led up to Cleo’s back door and little patio, and crossed the yard to the separate double garage.
I carefully backed out, grateful I didn’t drive a larger car, turned around, and headed out the gravel drive between numbers 46 and 44 North Elm Street, turning right on Elm.
Half a block later, I made a left onto Fourth and took it to Main Street, the heart of downtown. I’d been here before, both when I was a child visiting my grandparents and when I came into town for the interview, but I looked at things a lot more closely now that Dogwood Springs was my new home.
My parents still lived in Columbus, Ohio, where I’d grown up, but Mom thought my move to her hometown was the smartest thing I’d done in years. According to her, Dogwood Springs was a gem among small towns. I had to admit she was probably right.
Downtown had been pretty in April when I came for my interview. It was even prettier now, in June, with the maples that lined both sides of Main Street fully leafed out. The huge baskets that hung from each antique light post had held pansies in April but were now heavily weighted down with pink and purple and white petunias. And as I’d noticed before, there were upscale restaurants, a large library, a candy shop, a bookstore, a gift shop, a bakery, and a store called “It Always Fits,” which had a window display of scarves, purses, and jewelry. All of this and more within walking distance of my very reasonably priced apartment. I didn’t want to be disloyal to Philadelphia, but Dogwood Springs seemed really nice.
At four o’clock on a Saturday afternoon in June, the sidewalks along Main Street were filled with shoppers, including a man eating a big piece of fudge, a girl of about ten walking a pair of small, fluffy white dogs, and four women in matching hot pink T-shirts that said “Eat, Shop, Sleep. Repeat.”
The history museum, which was a large, white, two-story Greek revival, sat at the far edge of the business district, two doors down from the bookstore. What could be nicer? I could take a sandwich for lunch some days, eat it quickly, and then pop over and find a new book. Maybe this move would turn out to be all right.
I drove slowly past the museum, giving myself a pep talk aloud about the new job, and followed Main Street out of the downtown area until it became a two-lane highway.
After a mile or so, I turned onto Red Barn Road and drove out toward Ashlington, my mother’s family home. The road wound past corn and wheat fields and through woods of oak and cedar. Excitement bubbled in my chest as I crossed Cedar Creek. I might be all grown up, but part of me was still five years old, eager to celebrate Christmas or the Fourth of July surrounded by my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins at Ashlington.
As I got closer, I slowed. Did I really want to see the house? What if it was too depressing? What if the owners came outside while I was driving by? I wasn’t sure I wanted to explain the pull the house and land had on me.
But maybe they would understand. Maybe they had felt it too. Maybe that’s why they bought the place.
I rounded the last curve, and a bittersweet ache pinched the base of my throat. There it was.
The pale peach house sat atop a ridge, and beyond its wide backyard, the rolling Ozark hills spread out, fields alternating with forest in a glorious green patchwork. As for the house itself, Ashlington was two-and-a-half stories of Victorian architecture at its finest. A wide front porch arced out to form a rounded entryway, and a matching balcony above provided a private porch that had been my grandmother’s breakfast spot. The roofline sported twin chimneys, gingerbread details, and—my favorite feature—a turret. When my grandparents, Birdie and Bob Dorsett, owned the place, the turret room had been a library with walls lined with musty classics, old encyclopedias, and at least two decades of the Farmer’s Almanac, well-worn by my grandfather, an avid fisherman who trusted the predictions for good fishing days.
My ancestors who built Ashlington had made their money in lumber. When I was a young child, my grandparents had still owned the local lumberyard, been pillars of Dogwood Springs’ society, and held a fabulous party each Christmas for friends, employees, and family.
By the time I was twelve, though, my grandparents were deceased, the lumberyard had closed, and the house had been passed on—half to my Aunt Gloria, the eldest, and half in smaller shares divided among my mom and her other sisters. Once my grandparents were gone, the family ties loosened. Oh, my mother and her sisters still talked on the phone every weekend, but the family had scattered across the country, and we never got together much. Finally, two years ago, after Aunt Gloria’s husband died and upkeep on the house got to be too much for her, she moved to Texas to be closer to her daughter. She sold the house to some retired tech mogul, bought a new sunhat, and took up bridge. My mom, whose mouth always tightened when she spoke of the sale, said Aunt Gloria had been fleeced. In my mom’s mind, Ashlington was a million-dollar mansion.
Today, as I drove closer, I spotted scaffolding at the west side of the house, where a project to repaint the trim appeared to be nearing completion. I knew what my mother had gotten after the sale, and I knew what Aunt Gloria had kept. To be honest, the tech mogul might have been kind—or perhaps not yet used to prices in rural Missouri. Ashlington, for all its charm, looked like a money pit.
I let out a sigh. Whatever its value, it still called to my heart. But even if I could have afforded it, Ashlington now belonged to someone else.
I gave a small wave, bidding farewell to the house, my happy childhood memories there, and any dreams I might have of living in the family home. Then I drove past, found a wide spot to turn around, and headed back toward town.
Toward my future.
At a supermarket on the edge of town, I loaded a cart with food and paper towels and everything else I could think of that I might need in my new home. Next door to the grocery store, I spotted a Mexican restaurant with a parking lot already crowded for dinner and a sign that said they delivered. Another win for Dogwood Springs. Mexican was my favorite. I made a mental note of the name of the place and headed home.
Ten minutes later, reveling in the lack of traffic, I pulled back into my garage.
I hefted one reusable bag in each arm and walked toward my kitchen door.
There, waiting on the welcome mat, was a rather muddy Bella.
“I’m sorry,” Melinda said when I called. “This time, Bella found a way out under the fence. I don’t know what I’m going to do. She’s terribly lonely at my house, but I’m working a lot of double shifts. What with that and the time I spend commuting and the way Bella misses Dad, I don’t know if she’s ever going to like living with me.” She let out an audible sigh. “I have to admit, I promised Dad I’d make sure Bella had a good home, but I never really wanted a dog.”
“That is difficult.” I pictured Bella, all alone for those long days. She clearly loved people, and she was such a nice dog. She’d even seemed appreciative when I wiped the mud off her paws with some of my new paper towels.
“There’s a woman at the hospital who says she’ll take her, but”—Melinda hesitated—“between you and me, I’ve met her kids, and I’m not sure they’d be nice to Bella.”
I sank onto the couch.
Bella trotted over, tags jingling, and laid her head on my knee. She looked up, a plea filling her soft brown eyes.
My heart twisted. “Um, can I call you back in a few minutes?” The words slipped out before I’d thought them through.
“Oh…” Melinda sounded confused. “Sure.”
I hung up and ran a hand down Bella’s back. I was bound to be busy starting a new job. But I had been hoping to adopt a pet, and I knew how to care for one, since we’d had dogs, cats, and even a hamster when I was growing up. Plus, I only lived a few blocks away from my job. I could pop home every day at lunch and let Bella out. And if I had extra work, I could bring it home in the evenings. It wasn’t like an extra shift at a hospital an hour out of town. By five-thirty every day, I’d be home, free to take Bella for a walk and spend time with her.
I made a quick call to my landlord and called Melinda back. “Would you be willing to let Bella stay with me for a week, on a trial basis, to see if we get along?”
She eagerly agreed and said she’d be right over with Bella’s bed, her brush, a giant bag of dog food, and a few toys.
I hung up, looked down at Bella, and drew in a deep breath. “Okay, girl, let’s give this a try.”
She gave me a happy doggie smile and wagged her tail.
A tingle of hope welled up inside me. Maybe, just maybe, this move might not be a mistake.
Maybe it was the fresh start I needed.
On Monday morning I got up half an hour early so I could take Bella for a walk. Sometime in the night, she’d left her bed, which I’d put in front of the fireplace, and laid down in the corner of my bedroom, bringing along her favorite toy, a well-chewed stuffed chicken. When my alarm went off, she came to the bedside and grinned at me with her tongue hanging out to one side. I petted her and told her good morning, and she waited patiently by the front door while I tossed on a T-shirt, some shorts, and my tennis shoes.
When I picked up the leash Melinda had brought over, Bella gave me a look that implied Don Felding had not wasted his time with such foolishness, but she allowed me to clip it on.
Outside, I let her take the lead, and we headed down Elm. As the numbers of the cross streets grew higher, the houses looked more expensive. I was pretty sure that, by Eighth Street, none of them were rentals.
It soon became obvious that a morning walk was not solely exercise for Bella. In the course of ten minutes, I met three of my neighbors, each of whom welcomed me to town, seemed well-acquainted with Bella, and gave her plenty of love.
At Thirteenth Street, Bella looked up at me, then led me across the street and back down the sidewalk on the other side, as if she and her previous owner had followed this route many times.
Once we returned to the apartment, I showered, ate, and dressed for the day in the outfit I’d laid out, adding my mother’s family pearls for confidence. I put out more dog food and water, assured Bella that I would come home at lunch to let her outside, and learned—when I casually mentioned it—that she knew the word “treat.”
I left her happily munching a dog biscuit as I headed to the Dogwood Springs History Museum.
The two-story white Greek Revival had once been the home of Charles Pennington, a local man who made a fortune with an invention that had something to do with harvesting corn, a machine I needed to quickly become familiar with. The house dwarfed the lot it sat on, made Ashlington look modest, and must have seemed quite ostentatious at the time it was built. After his death, Pennington left the place to the town to be used as a history museum, along with a trust to help fund its operation as long as a display about his invention was one of the exhibits.
Of course, compared to the Henry C. Branch House, Charles Pennington’s former home was a rustic cabin. And to be honest, the collection held by the Dogwood Springs History Museum was similarly unimpressive when compared with the extensive holdings the Branch family had accumulated. I let out a sigh as I went up the sidewalk to the house. No one would ever accuse me of taking this position to upgrade my resume.
I could, of course, have considered taking a job in another field. My dad had suggested I go to dental school and join the family practice where he and my brother were dentists and my mom ran the front desk.
I’d shuddered, even though I knew Dad was joking. Ever since he and Mom took my brother and me to the Smithsonian when I was in grade school and I’d seen the exhibit of the first ladies’ dresses, I’d been fascinated by history.
To be sure, I had a more impressive answer I could give if someone asked why I went into public history, into museum work. I could talk about how our lives could be enriched when we knew about those who had come before us. About how museums could help visitors develop empathy for the past, the present, and each other. Really, though, it all started with those dresses. As I got older, my fascination with history expanded, but historic clothing always stayed dear to my heart.
Dentistry, not so much.
Oh, I used the top-of-the-line electric toothbrush my parents gave me for Christmas—a new one every two years—and I religiously flossed as my father had trained me in childhood, but I had no interest in dealing with other people’s teeth.
No, prestigious or not, the Dogwood Springs History Museum had a new director—me. And the museum did have some advantages that many small museums didn’t. The trust allowed for a paid staff of three, and some of the town’s tourist events had a strong historical component, so there were ample opportunities to promote the museum.
I straightened my shoulders and climbed the wide concrete staircase between the white columns that flanked the front door.
Inside, I inhaled the intoxicating scent of history—the slightly musty fragrance of old books and papers, the hint of mothballs that never really left some clothing, and the fresh scent of lemon furniture polish lovingly applied to antiques. Before me, a grand staircase led to the second floor. To my left and right, the former living room and dining room featured displays on the early days of the community and the role of women in its government, respectively.
I was due upstairs at nine to meet with Vivian Martin, the previous director of the museum. Before she left for her new position at a museum in Tampa, she had agreed to work an additional week to get me up to speed on the operations of the museum and current potential donors, all of which I was eager to learn. I had five minutes before our meeting, though, and I couldn’t resist a quick peek at the display on the role of women in Dogwood Springs’ government. There, in a dark wood oval frame, was a photo of my great-great grandmother, Elsie Dorsett, who after the death of her husband had run for and been elected mayor and served in that capacity for twenty-two years.
A willowy Black woman waved from the hall. “Hi. I’m Imani Jones. We met when you were here last month.”
“Nice to see you again.” I walked over.
Imani was the education coordinator and gave tours to school groups, tourists, and other visitors. She was younger than me, in her late twenties, and had eyelashes any woman would envy—long, black, and completely natural-looking. Her hair was braided back into a low bun, and she wore a loose, orange floral dress, a lightweight white sweater, and darling brown leather sandals.
“Welcome to the museum.” She smiled and spread her arms wide, a gesture that looked like something she used when she met a tour group.
A man with gray hair and a ruddy complexion, who I recognized as the museum’s curator, approached from the back of the first floor. “Rodney Grant.” He held out a hand. “Glad you’re here.”
I shook his hand, assured him I remembered him from my interview, and congratulated him on a recent acquisition Vivian had mentioned. “I guess I better head on up.” I started toward the stairs. “I’m supposed to meet Vivian and begin learning the ropes.”
“I’ll walk up with you and show you where her office is.” Imani gestured for me to lead the way up the wide, walnut stairs with an ornately carved railing. At the top, she turned toward the front of the house, the heels of her sandals making soft clunks on the carpet.
Rodney followed us up but turned the other way at the top of the stairs.
Like the first floor, the second had wide, ornate crown molding and baseboards. The walls were a creamy white, lined with early photos of the town, and the hardwood floor was covered with a burgundy runner. We made a slight jog to the right, and Imani stopped at a closed door. “Maybe Vivian overslept. She almost always has her door open.”
Imani knocked, and the door swung wide.
“Vivian?” Imani took a half step into the room. “Libby’s here to—” She let out a high-pitched scream and rushed into the room.
My stomach tensed. Cautiously, I went in.
Sunbeams filtered through the dark wooden blinds, supplementing the light from the overhead fixture and illuminating dust motes that hung in the air, the luster of the large mahogany desk…
And Vivian’s body, slumped in the chair behind it.
Her champagne blond hair was perfectly styled, her head tipped to one side, and her black-and-white paisley blouse stained with a blotch of dark red blood.
Imani placed two fingers against Vivian’s neck. “I don’t feel any pulse, but my hand is shaking so much that I’m not sure.”
“Call 911.” My stomach grew even tighter, but I forced myself to move closer. “I’ll…I’ll try.”
I pressed my fingers against Vivian’s throat but felt nothing except the fact that her skin was still warm. I held a finger right under her nose. Surely, if she was alive, I would feel her breath.
I shook my head at Imani, who now stood in the doorway, phone to her ear.
“We need the police. Vivian Martin is dead,” she said into the phone. “I think maybe somebody shot her.”
There was no maybe about it.
I was far more likely to watch a gentle British mystery on PBS than any variation of CSI, but even I could recognize a gunshot wound.
I scanned the area around Vivian, and my pulse sped. There was no gun in her hand, no gun on the floor, no gun anywhere in the room.
Someone had killed her and taken the weapon with them.
And that someone could still be in the building.
My mouth went dry, and I glanced into the hall.
Imani had stepped out of my line of sight to talk to the 911 operator.
Maybe I was paranoid, but I wasn’t going out there without some kind of weapon. But what could I find in Vivian’s office? A stapler? A book?
The sun slid up past another slat in the window blinds and glinted off a small, bronze-colored statue of Harry S Truman on the corner of Vivian’s desk. It was only about ten inches tall, but the bust—of the only U.S. president who hailed from Missouri—looked like a weapon to me. I tested its weight, then slipped it into the huge shoulder bag I used as a briefcase. I walked out of the room, jogged back to the left, and found Imani in the main hall.
“Yes, I’m still on the line,” Imani said into the phone.
Rodney stood beside her, his posture rigid.
Imani pointed at a woman rushing up the stairs. Fiftyish, she had chin-length, tousled light brown hair and wore a teal pantsuit and low heels. “Alice VanMeter,” Imani mouthed.
I nodded. Alice was the president of the museum’s board of directors and, according to what Vivian said when I interviewed, the best volunteer the organization had. I’d met Alice, along with most of the rest of the board, at my interview, and she’d called to offer me the job.
“What’s going on? Imani looks scared to death.” Alice reached the top of the stairs and started toward us.
“Stop.” I held out a hand and hurried toward her. No need for anyone else to see the body. “Something horrible has happened to Vivian, and we’re waiting for the police.”
“The police?” Alice’s brown eyes widened.
There was no easy way to say this. “Vivian’s dead. We think she’s been shot.”
Alice took a step back. “Goodness.” She glanced toward Vivian’s office. “In there?”
“I’m afraid so.”
Her lips thinned. “I see,” she said calmly. This woman was clearly good in a crisis.
Imani angled the phone away from her mouth. “The 911 operator says it will be a few minutes before anyone gets here. There was a three-car accident down by the university.”
Which meant we were alone in the building. Possibly with a killer. “Is anyone else here?”
“Not that I know of,” Imani said. “We don’t usually unlock the front door this early. I only unlocked it because we were expecting you.”
I peered up and down the hall. “Does anyone else have a key?”
Rodney angled his head toward Imani. “Vivian, us, everyone on the board.”
“Okay,” I said. “Well, I think we need to stick together and get out of here.”
Rodney and Alice nodded. They’d already come to the same conclusion I had.
Imani stiffened as the implication sank in. “Oh, um, yeah.” She moved closer to Rodney, slightly wobbly on her heels.
Footsteps echoed up the stairwell, and the three of us froze. I slipped a hand into my shoulder bag and frantically dug around until my fingers closed on the head of Harry S Truman. I pulled the bust from my bag, raised it over my head, and moved closer to the others. The four of us formed a wall with our backs to Vivian’s office.
“Whoa. What’s going on here?” A man in his forties came to the top of the stairs and jerked his head to peer at us one by one, ending with me.
I slid the statue back into my bag but kept my hand on it. “There’s been an…an incident.” Who was this guy? Surely, I’d remember him if I’d met him before. He reminded me of a skinny white rabbit in a business suit. Pale skin, pale strawberry blond hair, and washed-out blue eyes. “I’m Libby Ballard, the new museum director. Is there a reason you’re in the building before it’s open?”
“I’m Dwight Bower, board treasurer. I wasn’t at your interview. Is Vivian around? I need her signature.”
“No.” I released my grip on the statue. “And it’s going to be rather hard to get her to sign anything.”
“Oh.” His forehead bunched up. “Are you on the account yet?”
“Vivian’s dead,” Imani blurted out.
Dwight’s mouth fell open. “What happened?”
“I’d say she was shot,” Imani said.
“Wow.” Dwight ran a hand over his chest.
Outside, the wail of sirens began softly, then grew louder. “I imagine that’s the police.” I pointed toward the stairs. “We should go to the front door.”
One by one, the others somberly filed down the wide wooden staircase toward the entryway. I took up the rear, mind racing.
I didn’t really know Vivian. I met her at the interview, and we’d spoken on the phone. She seemed eager to begin her new job in Florida and grateful to be passing off her work to me.
In all our interactions, she had seemed professional. Not particularly friendly, but professional.
But maybe that lack of warmth wasn’t only with me. Maybe she’d been cold with everyone.
Because no one—not Imani or Rodney, who worked with Vivian every day, not Dwight, or even Alice—had expressed any sorrow that she was gone.
Three police officers came through the front door of the museum.
Talking over each other, Rodney, Imani, Alice, Dwight, and I tried to explain what had happened.
The oldest officer, who was short and heavy-set with a salt-and-pepper buzz cut, seemed to take it all in, then held up a hand to stop us. He asked if any of us had been harmed. We said we were fine, and he ordered the two younger officers to search the building.
They headed up the staircase, and he hurried us outside.
“I’m Detective John Harper.” He pointed to a metal bench that sat near the sidewalk in front of the house next to the museum. “Let’s go over there to talk.”
Alice led the way. Dwight, Rodney, Imani, and I followed in a clump, as if afraid to be separated from each other. The detective brought up the rear.
As we drew closer to the bench next door, I read the gold script on the glass front door, which identified it as an appraiser’s office. The building was partly hidden behind trees, and I’d thought it was a private home.
Imani sank onto the bench, let out a shaky sigh, and hunched forward, head in her hands.
Harper touched her arm. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
She looked back up. “I am. It was just…just…”
Alice sat beside her and patted her shoulder. “It’s okay, Imani. You’re safe.”
The detective nodded and turned to me. His thick eyebrows, several shades darker than his graying buzz cut, drew together. “I need your name and address, ma’am.”
“Libby, um, Elizabeth Ballard, 46 North Elm Street. I’m the new director of the museum. It’s my first day. Imani was taking me up to meet with Vivian when we found the body.”
I thought he might recognize my name, but he simply wrote down my information.
Perhaps the owner of the bed and breakfast hadn’t mentioned me when she took the evidence of the burglary I’d helped solve back in April to the police.
Harper looked up from his notepad at me. “Was the museum open?”
“No, it doesn’t open until ten.” I glanced at Imani for confirmation.
The detective turned to Rodney. “I know you work at the museum too, but I don’t know what your job is.”
“Curator.” Rodney provided his address and gestured to the bench. “Libby, would you like to sit down?”
I shook my head, and Rodney joined Imani and Alice on the bench. He rubbed his right knee and let out a heavy sigh. “Sorry. My knee replacement can’t come a day too soon.”
Alice patted his shoulder.
Harper looked at Dwight. “You don’t work at the museum. Why were you there before it opened?”
“I needed someone—either Vivian or Libby—to cosign a check. I’m the treasurer. I’m a CPA.” He directed the last comment at me, as if it was for my benefit.
I gave what I hoped was a believable smile. Having a CPA on the board was an enormous asset for a small museum. I should be grateful for his help. The timing of his visit to the museum, though, made him a prime suspect in my mind, and there was something about him that made me uneasy.
At least I thought it was him.
Maybe it was the whole situation.
After all, Alice and Imani had accepted Dwight’s explanation of why he was in the building, and neither one seemed frightened of him.
Unable to help myself, I edged slightly away from him, closer to Alice.
The officer took down Dwight’s address and turned to Alice. “I assume you’re on the board as well?”
Harper took her address. Then he turned to Imani, who he also seemed to know. He made sure he had the correct spelling of her name, asked what she did at the museum, and wrote down her address.
His radio squawked, and he said something into it that I didn’t quite catch.
“There’s no one in the museum,” Harper told us. “Let’s go inside. One of my officers says there’s a conference room.”
“Yes,” Alice said. “In the back. It’s the original kitchen.”
“Fine. I’ll speak with each of you individually there.”
The detective let us in the building, told us not to touch anything, and left us sitting on the upholstered benches in the entry hall with one of the younger officers to guard us. “Wait here quietly, please, and don’t discuss what has happened.” He tipped his head toward one of the young officers. “If you need anything, ask Officer Davis. Miss Jones, if you’ll come with me.”
Imani, who had been sitting closest to the front door, rose but made no move toward the detective.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine.” Alice stood and, for the briefest of seconds, touched a hand to Imani’s back like a mom urging on a child. “Just explain what happened.”
“Officer Tate, you’re with me.” The detective glanced at the other young officer and motioned for Imani to go ahead.
She looked back at Alice, then left the room with Detective Harper and Officer Tate.
Officer Davis leaned back, arms crossed over his chest, and watched us intently. Based on how young he looked, I’d guess this was his first murder investigation and he was eager for one of us to slip up, confess that we’d killed Vivian, and allow him to solve the case.
Instead, Alice, Rodney, Dwight, and I sat silent.
Dwight picked at his cuticles, then asked if he could use his phone to let his office know he’d be late. The officer agreed. I watched as Dwight sent a text, opened an app, and began reading.
Alice sat calmly, gaze distant, as if she were thinking of things she planned to do after the police released us.
Rodney picked up a newspaper from the end of the bench, but I didn’t think he was really reading it. No one could look at the front page that long.
For a moment, I contemplated the fact that there had been a burglary at the B&B when I came to town for my interview, then a murder on my first day of work. Odd, but clearly, just a strange coincidence. After all, there was a lot more crime in Philadelphia than in a small town like Dogwood Springs.
But crime in a museum came with its own set of complications. Many artifacts were one of a kind. Responsibility for the collection and discovery of a dead body was a lot to deal with on my first day.
I pulled a small notepad from my bag and wrote down details of what I had seen in Vivian’s office. When it was my turn to talk to the detective, I wanted to give him all the information I could. The sooner he solved this case, the better.
Alice was interviewed next, followed by Dwight. When it was Rodney’s turn, he slowly got to his feet. As he walked away, I heard him say how vital it was that the police not get fingerprint powder on the artifacts and that they allow him to check to make sure nothing had been stolen. I nodded gratefully. I’d be reiterating those exact same points.
Finally, it was my turn to be interviewed.
Officer Tate came to the entry hall and led me to the conference room. Unlike the display rooms, it had been updated. It had a modern sink, a mini-fridge, and a coffee station along one wall, but the remodel looked like a low-budget job. The vinyl floor, a pattern designed to look like cream tiles with mauve grout, had probably been laid in the 1980s.
Detective Harper sat at a long wooden table in the middle of the room. Officer Tate gestured for me to sit across from the detective. Tate sat beside the detective and took out a notepad.
The detective looked over at me. “Miss Ballard, Rodney has volunteered to go through the museum to see if anything was stolen. Is that all right with you?”
“That would be wonderful. I don’t really know the collection yet. And if it’s at all possible, could you—”
“Be careful with the fingerprint powder?”
“Rodney already made that point about six times. We do have to collect evidence, but we’ll be as careful as we can.”
I expressed my gratitude, then gave my statement, answering each question as best I could, describing when I arrived, who I saw, and what I noticed about the crime scene.
“Had you met Ms. Martin before today?”
“Yes, I met Vivian when I interviewed for the job in April.”
Harper made a note on his pad.
“I also talked with her on the phone a few times. She seemed eager to make sure I had all the information necessary to take over her position. That’s why she was here today. She was going to spend the week introducing me to potential donors and discussing a big grant proposal she planned to submit.”
He nodded. “And when you found the body, Miss Jones went into Vivian’s office first?”
“Yes.” I thought for a moment. “She knocked, called out ‘Libby’s here,’ as the door swung open, and started to go in. Then she screamed and rushed into the room.”
He made another note. “And she touched the body?”
“Yes, we both did, trying to see if Vivian was still alive.”
“You said Miss Jones was in the room before you were?”
“Were you with her the entire time after you found the body until I arrived?”
I thought for a moment. “No. She stepped out into the hall and around the corner. I think the sight of the body—” I made a helpless gesture with my hands.
“So, she could have removed evidence from the scene and hidden it elsewhere on the second floor.”
“I guess,” I said slowly. “She couldn’t have gone very far. I joined her in the hall pretty quickly.” I leaned forward. “I really don’t think Imani was the killer. She looked too shocked when we found the body.”
Harper gave me a pained look, as if he thought I was naïve. “We’ll figure this out, Miss Ballard. We have to consider all possibilities at this point.” He leaned back in his chair. “I think that’s all my questions for now. We’ll type up your statement and need you to come down to the station to sign it after lunch tomorrow. And I need to ask you to stay in Dogwood Springs until this is wrapped up.”
I felt my shoulders stiffen. “Am I a suspect?”
“It’s purely routine. I may need to ask you more questions.”
He rose and walked back with me to the entry hall. “Rodney, Officer Tate will go through the museum with you. Dwight, Alice, Libby, you all are free to go. Miss Jones, I’d like you to come down to the station. We have a few more questions for you.”
Imani gulped, and her eyes widened.
The detective turned to me. “Miss Ballard, the museum needs to remain closed until we finish gathering evidence. I will call you when we’re done. I apologize in advance for the fact that it may take a few days. We were short-staffed before, and today, half the force is out with food poisoning from a birthday party they attended last night. For now, let me walk out with you.”
I made sure Rodney had my number. He promised to provide the police with a key and to call as soon as he finished checking the exhibits.
Outside, Officer Davis stood beside the front door of the museum, and Detective Harper put Imani in the back of a police car.
“Holy smoke,” Dwight said. “They think she did it.”
“Imani is a nice girl.” Alice’s mouth tightened. “I can’t believe she’s capable of murder.”
Dwight gave her a sideways glance. “You do remember the last board meeting, don’t you?”
“Humph.” Alice looked down her nose at him. “I still don’t believe she’s a killer.”
“What happened at the last board meeting?” I asked.
Dwight leaned toward me.
Something about him still made me uneasy. I had to force myself not to back away.
He took a step even closer. “Vivian told us that, unless you had strong objections, in her last duty as director, she was going to fire Imani. Apparently, Imani messed up a huge email campaign that Vivian had been counting on to bring in significant donations.”
“Oh.” There was a lot going on here that I was totally clueless about.
Dwight’s phone rang. He answered, mumbled something into the phone, and hung up. “I should get to my office.”
Alice checked her watch. “And I’ve got to pick up my grandsons.” She laid a hand on my shoulder. “Libby, are you okay on your own?”
“I am.” Even if I felt odd having touched the body of someone who’d been murdered. “I think I’ll head home and take a shower, try to relax a bit.”
“That sounds like a good plan.” Alice patted my shoulder, then she and Dwight headed toward the parking lot behind the museum.
I walked as far as the bookstore. Then I glanced back at the officer guarding the front door of the museum and headed home.
What a day.
My new job at the Dogwood Springs History Museum was not starting off the way I had hoped.
The former director was dead, the museum closed, and one of my staff members suspected of murder.
Bella greeted me at the front door, tail wagging at top speed. Tears sprang to my eyes, and I knelt and pulled her close, soaking up the connection as scenes from the day swirled in my head like dandelion fluff picked up by the wind. I walked to the kitchen, pulled the heavy Truman bust from my purse, and put it on the counter, then let Bella outside. I sat on the back steps and called my dad at work, luckily catching him between patients.
I gave him an abbreviated version of the day, which he agreed to pass along to my mom with repeated assurances that I was not in any danger. I knew if I called her with the shock still this raw, she’d immediately pick up on my stress, and it would cycle in some weird feedback loop, leaving me even more upset. Dad, on the other hand, told me the police would catch the killer and the new job would work out fine.
I got off the phone, took a shower, and fixed Bella and myself some lunch. After lunch, I brushed her coat as I told her all the details of the day.
Finally, after I had cut out a small mat of fur on one of her hind legs and brushed the rest until it gleamed, I gave her a pat on the head. “We’ll have to do this several times a week, girl, to keep your coat in good condition.”
She laid her head on my knee as if to say she was more than willing. Then she looked up at me with such affection that it made my heart ache. In her eyes, I felt perfect, loved beyond measure. My ex-husband had once loved me like that, had once made me feel like I was the most important person in the world.
Trusting him, believing him, building a life with him…hadn’t turned out so well.
I gave Bella a big hug and kissed the top of her head. “I’m so glad you’re in my life now, girl.”
I don’t know if she somehow sensed that I was upset, but she stuck right at my side as we walked down Elm Street, turned at Thirteenth Street, and returned home. And the rest of the afternoon, she stayed extra close. At one point, she even brought over her stuffed chicken and dropped it by my feet. I didn’t find it quite as comforting as she obviously meant it to be, but I appreciated the gesture. She really was an incredible sweetie.
Eventually, her presence made me feel a little more normal.
More normal, but still shell-shocked.
The internet was not yet on in my new apartment, but after our walk, I connected to a streaming service on my phone and binge-watched the happiest show I could think of, a sitcom from the eighties. I ordered chicken tacos delivered for dinner and had some of my emergency shortbread for dessert. If ever there was an event that called for the soothing combination of butter and sugar, finding a dead body was it. Just after I finished eating, Rodney called and told me that, to the best of his knowledge, nothing had been stolen from the museum. I thanked him profusely and was starting another episode of the sitcom when someone knocked at my door.
I paused the show on my phone, ran my fingers through my hair, and walked to the door, Bella at my heels.
Cleo peered through the narrow window beside the door that led from the entryway to my apartment. When I opened the door, she enveloped me in a hug. “I’m so glad you’re okay. I heard someone was shot at the museum today.”
“It was Vivian, the former director,” I said.
Cleo inhaled and gripped the collar of her bright purple shirt. “I know her. She was one of my clients. She came in for the exact same cut and color every month. Never an update, no matter how hard I tried to convince her.” Cleo shook her head. “What a horrible thing to have happen on your first day.”
“It was. Especially since we found her body in what will be my office.”
Cleo’s eyes widened. “Really? You found the body? That’s even worse.”
“Imani Jones, the member services coordinator, and me.” I led Cleo into the living room and sat on one end of the couch, gesturing to the other.
She sat, leaned forward, and listened intently as I explained what all had happened.
“I don’t really know what to think.” How should I say this? “But I have a feeling Detective Harper’s on the wrong track. He suspects Imani, and she was totally shocked when we found Vivian.”
Cleo let out a sigh. “The police chief, Detective Harper’s brother, Wes Harper, had a heart attack a few weeks ago and is still at home recovering. Sue Ann, the dispatcher—she’s another one of my regulars—says the police were already short-staffed before Wes’s heart attack. Detective Harper has been pulled into administrative stuff and still has to do his own job.” She paused for a quick breath. “Sue Ann says he’s overwhelmed.”
Tension built in my chest. “I really don’t think Imani did it. And the killer needs to be caught and put in jail.” Justice, which I’d never given a great deal of thought to in the past, meant a lot more to me after the way I’d been unfairly treated by my ex.
“Yeah. You don’t want whoever did this out on the loose, Libby. They might come back to the museum. If it was me, I’d be wondering if I even wanted the job.”
My stomach sank. “I can’t really imagine feeling safe there.”
As if she’d heard the stress in my voice, Bella came over and laid her head on my knee. I patted the silky fur between her ears.
I had absolutely no desire to sit in my office at the Dogwood Springs History Museum, waiting for someone to sneak in and kill me too.
And I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to visit the museum in the current situation either. Which meant revenue would plummet, and donors would keep their checkbooks closed. All of which would lead to my failure as director. I sank back against the couch. It was bad enough losing my position at the Henry C. Branch House. If I was let go from the Dogwood Springs History Museum, I’d never find another job at a museum. Talk about a no-win situation.
“Seriously,” Cleo said. “Do you want to go back to your old job?”
An interesting question. Would I rather work with my ex or around a murderer? My ex-husband won but only by a hair. “Sadly, that’s not an option. The market for museum jobs isn’t great. I was lucky to get this position.”
And I needed it to work out. The past few months without a job had taken a toll on my finances. At this point, I had three options for covering my living expenses. I could make this job work. I could sell my pearls, but I wasn’t sure they were worth that much. Or I could ask my parents for money, which I really didn’t want to do. Oh, they were fairly well off, and they’d be happy to help. But except for a couple small scholarships, my parents had paid for my undergrad at Ohio University, and they’d helped out when I got my master’s. I didn’t want to go back to being dependent on them. I wanted to stand on my own two feet.
But I wasn’t certain Detective Harper would ever find the killer if he was that overworked, especially with the way he’d targeted Imani. And if the police weren’t going to solve the crime…
“Maybe there’s another option.” I sat up taller.
Was I crazy to even consider it? Like any historian, I was good at putting puzzle pieces together. And I instinctively approached things logically. Look at how I’d figured out who was behind that burglary at the bed and breakfast.
Plus, I was certainly highly motivated. If I was going to make a success of this new job, I needed the museum to be open and cleared of any link to a crime.
But I also had another reason for wanting to solve this case. Although I’d never admitted it out loud, I’d felt like a victim in Philadelphia. A victim of my husband’s infidelity. A victim of the divorce. A victim of how my ex had manipulated our boss at the museum into eliminating my position.
This move was all about change, about taking charge of my own life and beginning a new, better chapter. I was not going to let myself—and my future in Dogwood Springs—be an indirect victim of this crime.
I raised my chin and looked over at Cleo. “I’d need information about possible suspects, but you’re a hairdresser. Don’t you know all the secrets in town?”
“Some of them, yes. But if you’re saying what I think you’re saying, that you want to try to figure this out on your own…” She raised her eyebrows.
She dipped her chin and gave me a look that said she was impressed. “Then you need info from someone connected to the museum. Someone you can trust.” Cleo tapped her lips with one finger. “Doesn’t Alice VanMeter volunteer at the museum?”
“She does. She was there this morning, in fact. And she’s the president of the board, the person who hired me.”
“You can trust her.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yep. She’s smart. She knows everyone. And she was my Sunday school teacher in high school.”
“Do you think she’d help me?”
“Oh, yeah. She loves that museum. In fact, she loves everything about this town.”
I thought back to how I’d instinctively moved away from Dwight and toward Alice. “Okay. I’ll call her and see if she can meet me tomorrow to talk. The museum is closed until the police finish collecting evidence.”
Cleo nodded. “Can we meet early? I have to open the salon at ten.”
“You want to join us?”
“Of course I do. Alice will be great for information, but I’ve watched TV. You don’t want to go into dangerous situations alone. If you go out hunting for clues, it’ll be better if I go with you, instead of Alice.”
“Because I lived in some pretty bad neighborhoods in New York. I’ve taken a lot of self-defense classes.” She raised her arms as if she were about to give an attacker a karate chop.
“Wow. Thanks.” A bubble of hope welled up inside me. I wasn’t trapped in a no-win situation. This wasn’t my divorce all over again. I had a plan. And I had Cleo to help me, someone who was turning out to be a real friend. Surely, we could figure out who killed Vivian. “I’ve got Alice’s number. Is there a good place we could meet for breakfast to talk?”
“The Dogwood Café on Main Street. Their pancakes are to die for.”
I shot her a look. “To die for? Probably not the best endorsement, given the situation. But I ate dinner there when I came for my interview, and it was delicious. I’ll see if Alice can meet us. Maybe nine?”
Cleo agreed, and Alice did as well when I called.
I hung up and tried to hold back a yawn. “Sorry. I think the day has caught up with me.”
Cleo gave me another hug, reminded me that she was right upstairs if I needed her, and headed to her apartment.
I got ready for bed, determined that tomorrow I would find the killer.
ANTIQUES, ARTIFACTS & ALIBIS will be available Sept. 8 in Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and paperback from Amazon. To pre-order your e-book copy, click here.