Book 8 in the Foxglove Corner Mysteries
The man parked his beige sedan in a swath of shade cast by the young balsam firs that arced over the mailbox. He got out of the car, stared at the house, then tramped up the walkway, looking straight ahead.
We watched him warily from the porch of my green Victorian farmhouse, my two collies and I.
Halley started barking and Candy growled a soft warning. I laid my hand on Halley’s head and told Candy to be quiet.
Strangers on Jonquil Lane were a rarity, and this man inspired anxiety by the very purposefulness of his walk. Like a soldier advancing on the enemy, I thought.
Who was he?
He was handsome, perhaps middle-aged, with a burly build, attractive features chiseled in lean angles, and a weathered complexion. His Stetson hat rested easily on gray-streaked hair. Worn jeans and a denim shirt, rolled up to expose brawny arms, gave him a rough-and-ready look, reinforced by the jagged scar on his left cheek.
Candy growled again as he came to a stop at the foot of the stairs. Moving to the edge of the porch, where the afternoon sun struck blue lights in her thick black coat, she bared her teeth. My welcome smile died on my lips as the man’s cold hazel eyes bored into mine.
He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “I come to talk to you about your dog.” He glanced at Halley but pointed to Candy. “That one there with the red collar.”
Some instinct warned me not to say Candy’s name aloud. I sat silently, leaning forward in the wicker chair, and waited for him to continue.
“She’s been running free on my land, chasing my turkeys and swimming in my pond.”
Candy swimming? She didn’t like water. But turkeys? I didn’t know.
“You’re mistaken,” I said. “There’s more than one black collie in Foxglove Corners. My dogs don’t run loose.”
Except once. Last week a deer had ventured close to the house, only a few yards from the porch. Candy had chased it back to the woods across from Jonquil Lane, yipping merrily, ignoring my shouted ‘Come’ commands. Four hours later, she strolled back home, excited and muddy, her coat embedded with burrs. I’d tried to cut them out and finally had to take her to Marina’s Pet Parlor.
But he didn’t need to know that.
The man scowled at Candy who had moved in front of my chair where she stood like a dark statue, ominously silent. At my side, Halley whined.
“And all these black collies in Foxglove Corners wear red collars?” he demanded with a sneer.
“I couldn’t say. Dog collars come in all colors. Red looks good on black fur.”
He whipped a navy blue bandana out of his pocket and swiped at his forehead.
“Those turkeys are my livelihood,” he said. “They’re my bread and butter. I won’t let some mutt terrorize them.” He fixed Candy with a withering stare. “If I catch your dog on my property again, I’ll shoot it.”
I recoiled from the force of his wrath. “You can’t mean that.”
Like gunshots, his words hung in the hot air, casting an instant pall on the day. Flats of bright annuals on the grass waiting to be placed lovingly in the ground. Garden tools. Waves of blue and pink in my wildflower meadow. Camille Forester’s yellow Victorian gleaming across the lane. All seemed to recede in a giant encroaching shadow.
People in Foxglove Corners didn’t burst into their neighbors’ space and threaten their pets. This little hamlet in Lapeer County with its deep woods and lakes was a nice, peaceful place to live. Only nice people should be allowed to reside here. Not jerks. Not bullies.
Alone with my two dogs and a would-be killer in a world that had turned suddenly hostile, I tightened my hand around Candy’s collar and ignored my racing heartbeat. “Who the devil are you?”
“Just one of your neighbors who’s fed up with people thinking they own the county because they have a big fancy house. Consider yourself warned, ma’am. If you want to keep your dog alive, keep it on a leash.”
A dozen scathing retorts danced through my mind, a dozen perfect rejoinders to slap this arrogant interloper down to the ground.
Choose one. Say something. And don’t lose your temper. He looks like a loose cannon.
In the deepening silence, I said, “Consider yourself warned. You’ve just threatened to shoot a deputy sheriff’s collie.”
“I don’t care who he belongs to. If I see him again, he’s a dead dog.”
The last of my control melted. “Get off my property—now!”
Without another word, he turned and strode back to the lane, leaving me in a state of shock and the dogs agitated.
My allusion to Crane hadn’t fazed him, and I felt deflated. By my response, I had forfeited a little of my own power. I should have said something else. Something razor sharp and lethal to break apart his peace of mind, as he had shattered mine.
Not Wait until I tell my husband, the deputy sheriff, about this!
Jennet, the trapper of villains, Jennet the Giant Killer, should have been more assertive.
“Candy,” I said, hearing the tremor in my voice. “You didn’t do what he said, did you?”
She whimpered and nudged me with her nose. Not to be outdone, Halley set her snowy white paw in my lap.
My beautiful collies. My house. My land. How dare this evil stranger come out of nowhere with his death threats?
During the brief encounter, the temperature seemed to have taken a mad upward leap. I felt uncomfortable in my cotton blouse and dangerously close to tears. The man had stolen my pleasure in the fine June day. He’d taken the delicious sense of well being that had wrapped itself around me since my marriage last month and stamped it into the dirt.
I could hardly wait for Crane to come home.
A cup of mint tea and play time with the dogs returned me to my former mood. Unfortunately, the change was short-lived. The man’s warning replayed in my mind at intervals throughout the rest of the day: If I catch your dog on my property again, I’ll shoot it.
His voice grew louder and more menacing with each repetition.
She had been brought to me, a ragged stray with a rope around her neck, by a boy who hoped to claim the reward for my missing Halley. I’d adopted her and nourished her back to health and beauty; then as soon as Crane moved into the Victorian farmhouse, she had adopted him. I’d told the man the truth. In Candy’s heart, she was a deputy sheriff’s collie, although we both loved her.
As the temperature gauge outside the kitchen window inched its way toward ninety degrees, a chill climbed up my body. Candy was in danger. The safety and sanctity of our home had been challenged. Crane would know what to do.
But I decided to wait until after dinner to tell him about the stranger’s vile threat.
As one of the sheriff’s deputies, Crane worked long hours patrolling the lonely lanes and byroads of Foxglove Corners. He lived on the brink of danger even in this tranquil hamlet where, theoretically, life was simple and good. He’d been shot once, and it could happen again; but he didn’t dwell on it. Neither would I.
Instead I’d taken a private vow to make our home a place where Crane could relax and enjoy his leisure time. He’d have his favorite foods, his loyal dogs, and the attention of his adoring wife. So far I thought I had succeeded. For the most part.
One of my cardinal rules was the banishment of serious discussion at the dinner table. No shop talk from the Sheriff’s Department. No school problems dragged home from Marston High School where I taught English. No domestic issues. One single hour of serenity in a hectic day.
Tonight, in honor of our one-month wedding anniversary, I’d planned a special dinner: Steaks, baked potatoes, salad, biscuits, and a heart-shaped cake with strawberry frosting. This I’d set far back on the kitchen counter, well out of Candy’s reach for she was a perennial food thief.
I’d set the table in the dining room with my mother’s heirloom china and one of our favorite wedding presents, the antique silver candlesticks. They .had originally belonged to Crane’s ancestress, Rebecca Ferguson. She had been the wife of the first Crane Ferguson, a Confederate captain.
Crane’s Aunt Becky had told us tales of the candlesticks’ strange powers. Always willing to believe in the supernatural, I fancied that they cast a blessing on every aspect of our married lives. Consequently, they were often moved from room to room.
Now I unwrapped new white candles and added champagne flutes to the table, along with a vase of delicate yellow columbines from Camille’s garden.
Let the celebration begin.
A commotion yanked me out of my reverie. Barking wildly, the dogs galloped through the dining room to the kitchen door. Moments later, I heard the sound of Crane’s Jeep in the driveway.
He was home. The dogs always knew this before I did. They knew the second he turned onto Jonquil Lane.
I took off my apron, fluffed my hair, and hurried into the kitchen as Crane flung open the door and walked into a maelstrom of jumping, yipping collies.
“Candy!” I called. “Halley. Down!”
They obeyed reluctantly, and I took their place.
To Crane I said, “I’m so glad you’re home.”
“So am I, honey. Any special reason?” The flecks in his frosty gray eyes sparkled.
“You know I’m always glad to see you.”
He took me in his arms and kissed me soundly. My handsome husband, safe home at last. I ran my hands through his fair hair and caressed the fine lines etched around his eyes. My very handsome husband who had given me thirty-one happy days and nights. I didn’t want to let him go, but I had to be practical.
“What’s wrong?” he demanded.
He waited. It seemed as if I could hear the stranger’s voice, loud and distinct in the kitchen with us. It seemed that Crane could hear it too
“Okay. Something,” I said. “But we’ll talk about it after dinner.”
“Then it must be trouble.”
“I’ll start the steaks and make the salad,” I said, half-heartedly trying to free myself from his embrace. “I baked a whipped cream cake. Your favorite.”
“I have a present for you. It’s small…”
Happiness spread through me. How many men would think a one-month wedding anniversary was worth commemorating? How many would remember?
“Where is it?” I asked. “What is it?”
“Later,” he said, holding onto my arms. “I hope you didn’t get yourself involved in another mystery.”
I pretended to be shocked. “Certainly not. I’ve been far too busy with school and the house. Being married is hard work. Besides my sleuthing days are over. You know that.”
What Crane knew was when to surrender. “After dinner then, Jennet. We’ll talk.”
Candy trailed after Crane as he locked his gun in the cabinet he’d moved from his former house and headed upstairs to shower and change. Halley lay down beside her water pail, her gaze fixed on the two Porterhouse steaks. I placed them on the broiling pan and stashed them in the oven, out of her sight.
Outside, thunder rumbled across the sky, but the sound was far away, to the south. I glanced out the kitchen window. Clouds were building. The forecast was for rain, heavy at times, which would make the state’s gardeners and farmers happy.
My flowers should be nestled in the ground. The man had made me waste a perfectly good planting afternoon. That, of course, was only part of what he had done.
The clock chimed seven times, its ringing loud in the silent room. The storm had found us. Thunder crashed in the sky overhead, and rain pounded on the roof. It slashed against the dining room windows, blacking out our reflections in the glass.
But within these walls, all was cozy and festive. This was the kind of evening I’d dreamed about ever since Crane had stepped out of the woods across from Jonquil Lane two years ago and walked straight into my heart.
Crane at the table’s head. My collie family. Time together. Forever.
I’d finally gotten used to the idea that my green Victorian farmhouse was Crane’s home too. His possessions belonged here, and he wouldn’t leave at the end of the evening.
I smiled across the table at him as he finished the last piece of cake on his plate. “Now,” he said, pouring the rest of the champagne into the flutes. “Tell me what happened to upset you.”
I sighed, hating to come back to reality but having no choice.
“A man came to the house today,” I said. “A stranger...”
Crane listened intently, his eyes turning to ice as I told him how the man had taken me by surprise with his accusations and threats to shoot Candy. “I ordered him off the property, and he left.”
Crane’s voice was low and dangerous. “He said that?”
“Word for word. I’ve been hearing it in my head all afternoon.” As I’d narrated the incident, my throat had turned dry. I paused to take a sip of champagne. “You remember Candy’s adventure with the deer last week? I don’t know where she went. She might be guilty.”
“That doesn’t give anyone the right to shoot her.”
“I wish I’d been able to do more.”
“You did enough. I don’t want you taking any unnecessary risks. I wish he’d shown up when I was home, but I’ll handle him. And you make sure that Candy doesn’t get loose again.”
“I’ll do my best,” I said. “Hear that, Candy? Your master’s voice.”
She tilted her head and wagged her tail.
“And when he speaks, you listen,” Crane added. “Now, Jennet, what’s this man’s name?”
“He didn’t introduce himself. He just launched into his tirade. When I asked who he was, he said a neighbor and something unflattering about people living in big houses. So I guess he lives in a small one.”
“Describe him,” Crane said.
“He was a good looking older man with a mean expression.”
“You can do better than that.”
“Well, I’d say he was around fifty, maybe older, with grayish hair. He was dressed like an aging cowboy. You know, blue jeans, blue shirt, a Stetson hat. He had a scar on his left cheek.”
“A scar.” Crane frowned. “He said he was a neighbor? I can’t think of any man who fits that description. No one on Jonquil Lane; that’s for sure.”
Over the years Crane had become acquainted with practically everybody in Foxglove Corners. All their children and all the pretty women who thought he was wonderful. Even their pets. His knowledge about the denizens of our tiny community astonished me.
“He’s probably new in town,” I said.
Crane leaned back and touched Candy. She had made her way to his side from her starting point in front of the buffet where my good Halley lay, patiently waiting for a handout from the table.
“With so many houses not selling, there aren’t too many people moving in or out of Foxglove Corners these days,” Crane said. “He can’t be a close neighbor, but I’ll find him. Don’t worry.”
“And when you do, you’ll squash him?” I said.
Crane chuckled. “I’ll talk to him.”
That would be sufficient, I knew. “There are millions of ponds in Lapeer County, but while you’re driving around, look for turkeys,” I said. “Don’t they live outside? Or in coops?”
“I have better ways of tracking a man, honey,” he said and slammed his champagne flute down on the table with excessive force.
I blew out the tall white tapers. Dinner was over; it was time to move on. Crane had been genuinely surprised by my anniversary dinner and plied me with compliments as he ate two slices of cake. Now he was rested and resolute, and the night was only beginning.
As I started to gather our empty plates, both dogs leaped to their feet, dark eyes bright with anticipation.
Crane fed them each a handful of Porterhouse, set aside especially for them. “Leave the dishes, Jennet,” he said. “We’ll wash them later.”
“I will, you mean. You sit down and read the paper.”
“I read it this morning. Remember—you promised to obey me.”
“I never did.”
He rose and held out his hand. I let him lead me to the sofa in front of the fireplace. “Now I’ll tell you about my day.” His eyes held a gleam I knew well.
“Can I have my present now?” I asked.
“Later,” he said.
I settled back in his embrace and laid my hand on top of his, on his gold wedding band. It matched the one I wore, the precious band protected by my engagement diamond. We were a team, Crane and I, but I was more than willing to let him handle this unpleasantness as he saw fit. Still, a trace of apprehension lingered beyond the confines of his strong arms.
Something evil had moved into Foxglove Corners. It had appeared to me in bright daylight, uttered its venomous threat, and slithered off into the underbrush like a snake making its way out of Eden. And I didn’t even know its name.
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Dorothy Bodoin’s new book ‘A Time of Storms’ is a must read. It is the ninth book in her series, set in Foxglove Corners. I have read every one of them, loved them all and already anxiously await the next installment in Jennet Greenway’s life.
‘A Time of Storms’ is a page turner that will have you racing to the end to find out what happened. It is an exciting story, breathtaking at times and guaranteed to keep you guessing. Ms. Bodoin is a master at shrouding her events in suspense with the feeling that something evil is always lurking behind the scenes. The reader will also be thrilled to be back with familiar faces, dogs and neighbors.
Dorothy Bodoin is an author you don’t want to miss out on. Her books provide you with hours of cozy stories of interesting people, while her plots will mystify you with their ingenuity and suspense. Please take the time to put on a pot of coffee and hunker down for a good read. Your life will be enriched and you will long to live in Foxglove Corners near Jennet and Crane. I look forward to Ms. Bodoin’s next book. ~ Suzanne Hurley
Jennet looks forward to enjoying a long and happy life with her new husband, Deputy Sheriff Crane Ferguson, and their two collies, Halley and Candy, but storm clouds hang over the community of Foxglove Corners in more ways than one. A menacing newcomer, an old mystery about a woman who vanished from the local library, an intriguing blue Victorian mansion which was deserted before it could be lived in--all these problems and more converge on Jennet and spawn a roiling vortex which threatens to destroy all she holds dear.
In A TIME OF STORMS, Dorothy Bodoin expertly weaves together the storyteller's basic threads of plot, pacing, setting, dialogue and character, adds her great love for her collies, and sprinkles in a sparkle of the supernatural to create a suspenseful, satisfying and all around excellent read. A TIME OF STORMS is Ms. Bodoin's eighth book in her Foxglove Corners series, but it can easily be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone mystery. Highly recommended for all ages. ~ Donna H. Parker