Syndicated columnist Bridget Cormac has built a comfy lifestyle writing about history’s mysteries. When Police Chief Alec Boone drops a 50-year-old murder case in her lap, she’s eager to assist. Friendship kindles into a passionate affair, but their relationship is tested when the two professionals butt heads over the outcome of their findings.
An ivory tower researcher, Bridget seeks fame. An honorable lawman, Boone seeks justice. When Boone uses her research to arrest the culprit, an abused woman who killed to protect her child, Bridget is filled with remorse.
Can she live with the consequences of her ego-driven quest? Bridget may have to decide which is more important: Her new assignment or her new love.
April 12, 1961
Light from the kerosene lantern threw grotesque shadows on the wall as the woman struggled with the corpse. Ethel Jefferson rolled the dead man over and over until he fell, facedown in the crawlspace beneath the cabin. She reached into his back pocket and removed his wallet, then picked up the floorboards and placed them over the opening with care. Using a rusty hammer, she pounded the nails back into place.
In the corner, her daughter stared vacantly, tears drying on her dark cheeks. She flinched when her mother called.
“Cherry, get that quilt off the bed,” she said, her voice hushed. “Now hurry, child, get your clothes.”
They searched the small cabin for anything they could carry. Ethel slung the knotted bundle over her shoulder and opened the cabin door. “Come on baby,” she said. “We have to leave now.”
Cherry took her mother’s hand and they slipped into the night.
Bridget Cormac drove fast despite the snowy weather. After seven hours on the road, most of them in blizzard conditions, she was exhausted and wanted to get home.
She’d spent the past week at Boston’s luxurious Park Plaza. Decorated for the holiday, the elegant hotel sparkled with lights and ornaments but, like many of its guests, Bridget missed being home on Christmas day.
Her heart lifted as she approached the old farmhouse onLast Chance Road. She could see the kitchen light glowing through faded, linen curtains. A bag of warm cheeseburgers rested on the car seat next to her. They were peace offerings for her dogs, although a neighbor stopped by once a day to feed them whenever she traveled.
She coasted into the drive and touched the brakes. A police cruiser blocked the garage. Chief Alec Boone stood in the breezeway, stomping his snowy boots. She pressed a button and the electric window slid down, the stopped, half-frozen. Falling snowflakes peppered her hair when she leaned out.
The sight would alarm most people, but Bridget smirked. “Hey, you galoot! Move your car so I can pull into the garage.”
Boone tipped his hat and sprinted back to the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. He cranked the powerful motor, slipped it into reverse and backed down the drive. Bridget depressed the garage remote control and within seconds the heavy door slid up its tracks. She punched the gas pedal and shot into the dark, bumping into an empty trashcan before stopping. She climbed out of the car, leaving her luggage but hugging the bag of burgers to her shoulder, and pushed the wall-mounted button to close the garage door. She passed through the storm door into the cluttered breezeway, as Boone once again stomped his boots clean of snow on the stoop.
“Why don’t you be a sweetie and get my suitcase out of the trunk?” He caught the tossed car keys handily.
“Do I get a cheeseburger, too?”
“No. These are for Squirt and Morty. I’ll make you some coffee, though.”
She approached the kitchen door and heard the scrabbling of claws and excited whining. Squirt, a large shepherd mix, and Morty, a small, furry mongrel of terrier andChihuahuaheritage, shot out the door once it opened. They danced circles around Bridget.
“Yes, yes, Mummy’s home,” she gushed. “Yes, I’ve got your cheeseburgers. Come on inside.” She tried to hug the wiggling dogs, then gave up. Swinging the aromatic bag, she enticed them into the kitchen. Morty, however, eyeballed the storm door and waited for Boone to reappear. Then he growled and dove for an ankle, sinking his teeth in Boone’s boot. Ignoring him, Boone walked into the kitchen, dragging the snarling dog. He dropped the suitcase with a clunk and then lifted his leg. Morty, teeth still embedded in the leather, swung in semi-circles, growling furiously.
“Can’t you teach him manners?”
“He does it because he likes you,” Bridget said.
She unwrapped the burgers, then cut them into quarters using a pizza slicer. “Hey, let go Morty. This tastes better.”
She waved a morsel of melted cheese and meat by the little dog’s nose and he snatched at it, releasing Boone’s boot and falling with a thump. Undeterred, the small dog rebounded, leapt into the air and snagged the burger from Bridget’s outstretched fingers.
Squirt sat like a lady, waiting for a signal. With Bridget’s permission, Squirt stood on her hind legs, rested her paws on the counter and nibbled at the burger quarters.
Bridget wadded the fast food wrappers and tossed them, along with the sack, into the garbage can. Then she washed her hands and took off her coat, hanging it on a hook behind the kitchen door. She reached for a Mason jar of coffee beans and the grinder.
“Would you like Columbian or French Roast?”
Boone put his hat on the kitchen table and slid his jacket off, draping it over a hook. He sank into a nearby chair and sighed deeply.
“Whatever you want. I’m bushed.” he said, massaging his forehead. He yawned and slouched in the chair. Squirt placed a paw on his knee and watched him with trusting, brown eyes.
“Ahhh, you’re such a good dog,” Boone said, rubbing her furry ears.
“Yeah; she’s the best dog ever,” Bridget agreed, smiling when Squirt settled at his feet, her head on his cold, wet boot.
Morty snuffed in disdain, then headed into the corner to his dog bed, keeping mistrustful black eyes pinned on Boone.
The whirring and chopping of the bean grinder shattered the quiet of the kitchen and soon, the drip began. Bridget leaned into the counter and inhaled the bouquet. “Oh, I’ve missed this.”
Over her shoulder, she said, “Hotels have coffee pots in the rooms, but I think it’s only to taunt people. I’ve never been able to make a decent cup. Those little packages of generic creamer and sugar are the pits,” she complained. “This pot was worth every penny.”
Turning, Bridget saw that Boone dozed, his chin on his chest. She noted the black curly hair touching the collar of his brown uniform shirt. It was a bit longer than regulation for the by-the-book police officer. Laugh lines fanned from the corners of eyes framed with long lashes. A stoic man with a killer smile, Boone epitomized the cliché “talk, dark and handsome.”
The youngest son in a large family, he resembled his mother, a beautiful and fiery singer fromFrascati,Italy, a small town nearRome. While on tour thirty-five years earlier, she met and fell in love with Eli Boone, a country preacher. They married and she traded her operatic career for an enormous clan of rambunctious, dark-haired children. Although Carlina remained a devout Catholic, she also attended her husband’s church and reared their children in their father’s faith.
The old song about the “son of a preacher man” was true – eight years before, Boone had been the wildest, most romantic summer fling of Bridget’s life. It was impossible to keep her hands off him, much less his off her, the summer after her senior year of high school. But that was a long time ago and their short romance settled into a comfortable friendship, with occasional escort duty on formal occasions.
Boone didn’t date. He’d been engaged once to a young Mennonite girl, until a college-sponsored ski trip to the Poconos ended in tragedy. An eighteen-wheeler lost control on the icy road, colliding with the school van. Six students died. Boone, seriously injured and in a coma for two weeks, couldn’t remember the accident, a blessing since his fiancé, Daphne, died in his arms. After two years of rehabilitation, he still walked with a slight limp. He stayed in Eaton, along with the rest of the Boone clan, and attendedMarshallCollegeto finish his degree.
Bridget opted for a large university in North Carolina. She majored in history and creative writing and, luckily, found a job doing what she loved after graduation. She came home and worked at the local paper, the Eaton Daily News, where she developed a popular weekly column, “The History Detective.” She investigated mysteries of the past. She began with local and obscure oddities, but soon larger historical societies and museums invited her to solve their riddles. It became a unique and fascinating job.
Before long, other newspapers asked to reprint the column and within a couple of years, she syndicated it to newspapers along the East Coast. As a full-time, freelance columnist, she chose her own topics and, because of its national appeal, found herself traveling frequently.
Her latest trip had been at the request, and expense, of a wealthyMassachusettsfamily who claimed to possess one of the lanterns used to signal “one if by land, and two if by sea” atBoston’sOldNorthChurch. Generations of schoolchildren learned the story of when Paul Revere took his midnight ride, thanks to the famous poem by Longfellow. The event preceded the battles of Lexington and Concord during the American Revolution, and Bridget accepted the assignment eagerly. It would take awhile to establish the lantern’s provenance, but the outcome was immaterial to Bridget. The story behind the journey to historic truth is what interested her readers.
While Boone napped in the kitchen chair, Bridget opened the refrigerator and searched for a snack. She found a tube of cinnamon buns, turned on the oven and arranged the raw dough on a baking sheet.
Boone slept despite the clatter and smell of cooking pastry. He worked such long hours, Bridget often wondered if he used his job to mask his sadness. She knew doctors diagnosed Boone with post-traumatic stress disorder after the accident, but he brushed off treatment saying “everyone gets stressed.”
His solace came in the woods, photographing wildlife on long hikes. When he needed company, he went to Bridget’s old farmhouse where he relaxed in the easy chair, a cup of coffee in his hand and Squirt nestled beside his sprawling legs. Sometimes, he fell asleep, lulled by the crackling fire and Bridget would cover him with an old comforter. Then she would curl up on the sofa and read, or retreat to her home office, researching the Internet for upcoming articles.
Once, she stroked his face while he slept. Eyes closed, he murmured and grabbed her hand, pressing it to his lips. At that moment, Bridget ached for Boone, his touch reawakening youthful passion. She suppressed the urge and withdrew her hand. She didn’t want him to avoid her like he did other women.
But tonight, Bridget snapped her fingers at Boone’s ear. “Wake up. Here’s your coffee.”
Boone’s head jerked back, startled when Bridget set a steaming mug on the table.
“I found cinnamon buns in the fridge. They’re in the oven.” She heaped sugar and creamer into her cup and stirred. “Be careful; it’s hot.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was so tired.” He yawned and stretched.
“Not a problem. So, what have you been up to this past week?”
He lifted the mug and closed his eyes, inhaling the fresh brew. “Just what I needed,” he said, placing the mug on the table. “I’ve been busy. Carlo and Nico found a body in an old shack.”
Carlo and Nico, Boone’s older brothers, ran a tackle and bait shop along the river. During the winter, they closed for hunting.
Bridget gasped. Murder? That kind of thing didn’t happen around Eaton, much less in the small town ofChance. When she’d left last week, Boone’s big “case” was a missing cow.
“A body! What do you mean ‘a body’? How do you know it’s murder?”
“We’re assuming homicide at this point. The bashed-in skull and hasty burial indicate foul play.”
“Where did they find it? Is it a man or a woman?”
Boone shook his head. “Don’t know yet. Found it in the old shack onWeepingWomanMountain. You know the one near the gorge? Abandoned for years. Thursday’s snowstorm was heavy, and rather than walk blind, Carlo and Nico decided to wait it out there.”
Bridget bent over the stove, checking on the baking buns. “Who is it? Anyone I know?”
“Can’t say yet. No identification.”
As she opened the oven door, the sweet smell of sugar and cinnamon filled the air. Squirt raised her head and sniffed. So did Boone.
“Mmmmm. Those about done?”
“Be patient.” She checked the digital timer. “Two more minutes. Now, tell me more about this body.”
“Well, Carlo said they were sitting in the cabin and decided to make a fire. They couldn’t find any wood, so they ripped up a few of the floor boards. The place is falling apart. It was easy to yank them up. After they had the fire going and had more light, they started looking around the cabin. They found some old newspapers, rolled them and used them for torches … What?”
Bridget snarled aloud. “That’s great! Old newspapers could have given us some valuable clues. Morons!”
Boone didn’t refute it. “Anyway, it’s not recent murder. That’s where you come in. What I need is for you to do some of your historical research, see if you can help me pinpoint a time and, hopefully, a name.”
Bridget’s first thought was to turn down Boone’s request. What they had was safe. Helping with an investigation could upset the balance. She could not accept the idea of losing his … what? Friendship?
Before she could answer, the timer went off, beeping relentlessly. She decided to wait and hear more about the mystery before agreeing.
Impatient, she turned off the timer and opened the oven door. Caramelized sugar oozed down the sides of the buns, hissing against the hot baking sheet. With a mitt on each hand, she pulled out the pan and put it on top of the stove. Then, she swung back to Boone and crossed her arms.
“They have to cool now before I can ice them. Continue.”
He stood and walked to the stove, trying to reach around Bridget. “Just a bite….”
Bridget slapped Boone’s wrist and Morty growled. “Ahh, ahh, ahh. Sit. You’ll get your share after you tell me more.”
She opened a kitchen drawer, found a pair of scissors and cut the tip off the small tube of white icing. “Do you like a lot? Or a little?”
“What? Excuse me?”
“Do you like a lot? Of icing on your buns?”
“Umm, a little, I guess.”
“Good. More for me.”
Bridget finished icing the cinnamon buns and then squirted the last of it in her mouth. “Let’s go to the den. Get my coffee, will you?”
She picked up the platter of buns and walked through the archway into the large room.
The antique lamp by the window cast a warm glow on walls lined with logs and chinked with aging, cream-colored mortar. The fireplace was original fieldstone, built by master stonemasons in the early 1800s. Her kindhearted neighbor set the fireplace, in anticipation of Bridget’s return. All she had to do was strike a match.
While Boone lit the fire, Bridget placed the cinnamon buns on the old oak table and sat on the sofa. She held the coffee mugs and waited for Boone to settle next to her. Before he could lean back, Morty jumped on the cushions and dove behind him, heading for Bridget’s lap. Squirt collapsed on the floor with a deep sigh.
“Oh no, you don’t,” Bridget said, putting the coffee mugs back on the table and placing the small dog onto the floor. As a bribe, she pulled a bun apart and gave half to him, the other half to Squirt. Licking her fingers, she selected another bun.
“Home, sweet home. Greedy dogs, grumpy men ….”
Boone grimaced but let the insult slide, reaching instead for his mug. They ate several buns and slurped coffee in companionable silence. Soon, Boone placed another log on the fire. He moved ashes aside with the poker, uncovering the red-hot embers. Within minutes, the hardwood caught fire and heat blasted the room.
“Ehh, now it’s too hot,” Bridget complained. She removed her flannel shirt, revealing the tight, tank top she wore instead of a bra. She kicked off her slippers and tucked her feet under Boone’s thigh. She leaned against the soft, chenille cushions and raised her mug for a sip. Her eyes glowed, her long hair folded in curls about her shoulders. She poked at Boone’s stomach with her toe, then put her foot in his lap.
“Now, tell me about the body. What do we know about this person and how did he or she die?”
Boone squirmed uncomfortably, not sure if her toes in his ribs discomfited him as much as her foot in his lap. He slipped off her sock and began to massage her foot. Lately, Bridget had been in his thoughts, even in his dreams at night. He wondered how it would be to kiss her, to stroke her curvy body now that she was older. She was unaware of her sex appeal and didn’t have a clue how it affected him.
Her trips from home were more frequent, which meant they didn’t see each other often. Maybe absence does make the heart grow fonder, he thought.
“Well, that’s why I’m here. We don’t know who it is or when death occurred. I’m sure I can figure out how, but I thought this may be an interesting case. You might like to help me with the background.”
Boone continued to rub her foot, sensuously stroking her toes and ankle. She put her other foot into his hands. “Sure, I’ll help,” she murmured, her eyes half closed. “That feels so nice, Boone.”
She snuggled into the pillows with a contented sigh. Boone’s eyes dropped to her breasts.
“Bridget,” he whispered.
“Boone,” she whispered back, her head lolling on the pillows, her eyes closed as she luxuriated in his touch.
“I have to go now.”
Bridget didn’t react, locked in her cocoon. Boone abruptly put her feet on the couch and stood. “Thanks for the coffee. I’ve got to go.”
Bridget rolled off the couch and bumped into the oak table, bruising her knee in the process. Morty raced into the kitchen after Boone, snarling his farewell.
Boone was already in the kitchen, grabbing his hat and slinging his quilted, police-issue jacket over his shoulder. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” he said, then slipped out the kitchen door. Bridget heard the cruiser’s engine rumble down the long, winding driveway. She looked at Squirt, feeling a little guilty but not sure why.
“Was it something I said?”
Madeline Sloane had done it again, for those of us who have read her first three Novels in the Women of Eaton Consequence steps in to give us another opportunity to meet up with the ladies we meet in the first three and how there lives intertwine with Bridgets and she theirs. Unlike the first three novels in this series Consequence allowing you to tag along as Bridget peels back the layers of time to solve the secret of who was murdered and why, and the Consequences paid.