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The Cameo Clue was nominated for the Romantic Times' Reviewers Choice for Best Small Press Paranormal and Futuristic.

Chapter 1

The dead crow lay in the yard of an elegant old Tudor, a splotch of jet black on a bed of fallen maple leaves.

As I looked away from the unappetizing sight, a scrawny brown and white collie emerged from the thin woods behind the house. She stopped to sniff curiously at the bird, pressing her nose to its limp chest.

"Leave it!" I said. "Shoo!"

The dog looked up from her revolting find and stared at me, ears at high alert. Then apparently spying something more interesting across the street, she ran past me, zigzagging into the path of a fast-moving white convertible

The angry blast of a horn broke the afternoon silence, drowning out the squealing of tires. Without stopping to think, I dashed after her, while the driver, a red-haired man in a royal blue sweater, braked and veered onto the curb, brushing the collie's fur with his fender. She scampered safely back to the sidewalk with an indignant yelp. The man glowered at me and shouted, "Keep your dog on a leash or I'll run it over, lady!"

Before I could protest that the collie didn't belong to me, he straightened the car and accelerated in a cloud of blue smoke, leaving the stench of hot rubber lingering in the air. The dog lay down on the leaves, panting and wagging her tail slowly. I unclenched my fists and felt my heartbeat slow to a normal rate. I might have been hurt or even killed attempting to snatch her out of danger. We were both lucky.

In spite of the happy outcome of the episode, I bristled. The red-haired man didn't have to be so rude. Where was that small town friendliness the realtor had told me to expect?

"You could have been dead like that crow, girl," I said, glancing at the black splotch. "Go on home."

With the excitement over and tragedy averted, except for the crow, I walked on. This was the day of Maple Creek's annual Apple Fair and no time for ominous death symbols. I refused to think of the dead crow, the dog's narrow escape, and the surly driver as omens shadowing my new life. Today was a celebration of the harvest and patriotism.

Most of the stately old houses in my view were flying America's colors, while smaller flags fluttered in window boxes and clay planters, replacing summer flowers. They were color in motion, red and white stripes and blue star-sprinkled squares waving in the warm October wind. I stood at the corner of Walnut and Cherrywood admiring their beauty while I waited to cross the intersection.

I didn't imagine that anyone, even the apple growers, objected to the theme of the Apple Fair. A person could either drown in the tide of national fervor that had gripped the country or ride along with it. Like the rest of the town, I chose to ride. After a four-year stint teaching English on overseas army bases, I was back in the United States, glad to be home, and vulnerable to patriotic displays of any kind.

At the same time, I was also slightly uneasy. Being on the faculty of a rural high school would be a new experience for me, almost like starting my career all over again. Still, I felt that I'd made the right choice. After all, I couldn't stay in Europe indefinitely, and I'd discovered that good teaching positions in Michigan had grown scarce in my absence. I'd been lucky to find the opening in Capac.

The Apple Fair was a welcome distraction from my lingering doubts. I couldn't possibly stay indoors unpacking endless boxes while the strains of "America the Beautiful" drifted in through the windows. I had weeks to finish settling in. The Fair was a one-day event, and I wanted to meet as many of my new neighbors as possible. So I'd changed into a red rayon dress, slipped my wallet and house key into my pocket, and set out for Main Street.

I crossed the intersection and found that I was no longer walking alone. The collie followed me now, occasionally nudging my hand as if to say, 'We're together.' She wasn't wearing a collar.

When we reached Main Street, the dog melted into the crowd in pursuit of new company and fresh scents, and I followed the music to the heart of the Fair. In the center of town at least three hundred people milled around, munching on apples in various forms and shopping for country crafts. Grouped in front of the Blue Lion Inn, the high school band played "Yankee Doodle", giving the affair the sound of a patriotic rally.

As I scanned the crowd looking for a friendly face, I noticed the tall, lean policeman who stood under a traffic light directing vehicles onto a side street. With his grim expression, he appeared to be anything but friendly. In his dark uniform, he was unusually handsome, though, and well worth a second look - or even a third.

He raised his muscular arm and turned his head slightly to wave a red Taurus to the left. His face was as lean as his body, chiseled in sharp attractive angles, and his smooth dark brown hair gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. One strand fell forward on his forehead from a center part, brushing the top of his eyebrow.

The officer reminded me of a larger-than-life figure, perhaps a mythological hero misplaced in time, but he was only a traffic cop in a small Michigan town who looked bored with his present assignment. At the end of the day, he'd probably go home to an ordinary life and microwave a frozen dinner.

As I would be doing myself.

Aware that I had come to a standstill on the corner for no legitimate reason, I strolled past the officer and turned my attention to the collection of stands set up around the municipal park to promote the apple orchards and Maple Creek Cider Mill, the town's major industries.

Along with the traditional cider and doughnuts, vendors offered a variety of apple pastries and pies. Swags decorated with dried apple slices shared space with candles, prints, and bushels filled to the top with McIntoshes, Jonathans, and Red Romes. Everywhere I turned, I saw the colors of the flag swirling through handmade pillar candles, winding their way around grapevine wreaths, and decorating harvest dolls.

Bedecked in autumn finery, Maple Creek was as charming as any small European city. I would be happy here. I'd keep telling myself that until it was true.

For almost an hour I wandered through the Fair, trying to decide which of the many wreaths would look best on my front door and whether I should take home a whole pie or cider and doughnuts. Finally I came to a hotdog stand set up next to a lawn decoration display of scarecrows and witches. Here I saw the stray collie again, sitting and watching franks turn on the grill. She must be hungry, and now that I thought about it, so was I, but not for a hot dog.

For me, the most tempting of the Fair's offerings were the glossy caramel apples. Like the flags, they were everywhere. Pie, doughnuts or caramel apples? I couldn't decide. In the end, I settled on a cup of cider and a doughnut. Whatever else I wanted, I could buy later when I was ready to leave.

As I glanced around, looking for a place to sit down, I noticed a pair of black iron benches in the densely shaded yard of the house across from the park entrance. Of all the vintage dwellings in the town, this lavender Victorian with the purple trim was the prettiest. Strictly speaking, it wasn't a private residence but a business, Sky and MacKay Title, according to the sign under the porch light. It didn't look as if the company was open today. Surely the owners wouldn't mind if I borrowed their yard for the few minutes it would take me to eat my doughnut.

Someone else had the same idea. A brawny man with a neatly trimmed black beard sat on one of the benches tossing pieces of a foot long hot dog high into the air for a large black dog to catch.

I crossed the lawn, crushing down the crisp red maple leaves that layered the ground, and sank onto the other bench. Giving the man a quick smile, I set my doughnut in my lap and took a sip of cider - a long sip. It was the best drink I'd ever had.

Holding a chunk of bun in mid-air, the man turned to me and said, "There's a good crowd here today. Not like last year. Warm weather always helps."

His hands were darkly tanned, and he wore a large silver ring with black stones and diamonds that glittered in the sun. His camel vest, forest green shirt, and high riding boots suggested 'Country.' Here was the friendly face I'd been searching for.

"It's a perfect day for a festival," I said. "You never know what the weather is going to be like in October."

He threw the last tidbit for the dog and wiped a speck of mustard off his fingers. "They're predicting a rain-snow mix for later in the week."

"I hope not. That's a gorgeous dog. Is he a German shepherd?"

The dog sat at his master's feet, a bundle of energy waiting for the next activity. His owner slapped him lightly on the rib cage and said, "You're close. Tac is a Belgian Shepherd. He's the best dog I ever had, but nobody ever called him gorgeous before." Pointing to the lavender house, he added, "My name's Garth MacKay. As in Sky and MacKay Title."

"Oh - " I was on his property, then, sitting on his bench without asking if he minded. "I'm Katherine Kale."

Before I could apologize for intruding, he said, "I don't think I've seen you around town before. Did you come in from downstate for the Fair?"

"No, I'm a local now,' I said. "I bought the blue Victorian on Walnut." I was about to add that I'd only lived in Maple Creek since last night when he smiled broadly.

"I know that house. You sure turned it into a showplace. It's been rundown for years. Sometimes I thought about buying it myself and fixing it up, but you beat me to it."

Garth was confusing me with the previous owners. They were the ones who had renovated and repainted the Victorian. Then for some reason, they had promptly listed the property and moved. That same day I'd driven through Maple Creek on my way to visit my new school and seen the picturesque blue house with the 'For Sale' sign in the yard. I liked the town, loved the house, and lost no time in making an offer for it. I'd never met the sellers.

I frowned uneasily at the memory of that afternoon. Usually I didn't make hasty decisions. Why had I responded so quickly and completely to the blue Victorian? Because it was beautiful and reasonably close to Capac High School, where I'd just signed a contract, and relatively inexpensive for a historic house in the present market?

All good reasons, but I couldn't explain the instant attraction and my impulsive purchase. A relatively inexpensive selling price was still a major financial commitment for a single teacher. I could easily have bought a one-story bungalow.

What did it matter? Even if I didn't know why the blue Victorian had called to me so strongly, it was mine.

"The realtor told me that the people who owned the house before me did that," I said. "All I have to do is furnish the rooms and do some landscaping. They didn't get around to working in the yard. I've been wondering why they sold the house - if anything was wrong with it."

Garth paused and looked down at Tac. "Now that I think about it, I met the last owners once. They planned to sell that place all along. That's how they make their living, buying rundown properties and fixing them up. I heard they bought a rare octagonal mansion for their next project."

"That's what the realtor said, but I thought she was protesting too much. I wonder why they left the landscaping undone. Curb appeal is so important when you're trying to sell a house."

Garth gave Tac a few rough pats on his head. "They were in a hurry to move on, I guess."

"Still it's strange," I said.

He paused and looked up, his hand now on Tac's strong neck. "Speaking of strange, I remember they thought there was something unusual about the house."

I sensed that, like the realtor, Garth knew more about the blue Victorian than he was saying. "Unusual in what way?"

"Something uncomfortable about it, I think they said. Maybe the floor plan."

That didn't sound right. The rooms flowed smoothly into one another, making the layout one of the house's most appealing features. "I don't think so."

"That's all I know, Katherine." Garth smiled again. His eyes were a blend of blue and green. The darkness of his tan emphasized their light color. I supposed that he spent a fair amount of time outside when he wasn't working at his title business, whatever that was.

"You'll like Maple Creek," he said. "Maybe I can help you out with something sometime."

"Maybe. Thank you. Do you live in this house?"

"No, not here . . ."

He broke off, his face brightening at the sight of the slender young girl who had just turned onto the walk. She was plainly dressed in blue jeans and an oversized white shirt, and she wore her honey blonde hair in a long thick braid. The black shepherd trotted over to meet her, his eyes fixed on the hotdog in her hand. He licked his chops in a manner that would alarm anyone who was unfamiliar with canines.

"Hi, Garth. I brought you something to eat and a ginger ale," she said.

"Thanks, honey. I'm hungry. Tac, Sit!"

The dog obeyed instantly, and the girl joined Garth on the bench, leaning back against the wrought iron scrollwork.

I broke my doughnut in two and ate it slowly. It was fresh and crunchy, good enough, but the cider was spectacular. As I drained the cup, I listened to the conversation that was taking place on the neighboring bench.

"Where are you working now?" Garth asked.

"Still at the yard sale. It's dead over there. Everybody's staying close to the Fair, and Miss Valentine keeps leaving me alone. She says she has to find somebody. Why don't you come visit me?"

"I might do that."

"All we sold all morning was a box of buttons."

"Miss Valentine is asking too much for that old stuff," Garth said. "If she isn't around, you'd better get back there before someone steals something."

"That'll never happen. Who would want it?" But the girl got up and gave Tac a casual pat on the head. "As soon as she gets back or Judy shows up, I'm leaving. I'll be at the Cider Mill stand the rest of the day."

"I'll come by there then. Save me a caramel apple," Garth said.

As she walked back to the sidewalk, Garth unwrapped the hot dog and ate it enthusiastically as if he was indeed hungry. But then why had he fed the foot long to the shepherd instead of eating it himself? Maybe he was one of those people who took care of their animals' needs before their own.

Between bites he said, "That's my little sister, Taryn. She's helping out at the Bell House today."

"Where they're having a yard sale?" I asked.

"Yes. Half a block down." He pointed east. "The Bell House is the oldest residence in town. Miss Valentine wants to restore it and turn it into a museum. She pestered everyone to contribute something for the sale. I gave her an old rocking chair."

I got up, brushed crumbs from my dress, and stuffed the napkin into the empty paper cup. "I think I'll check it out. I have a whole house to furnish."

He chuckled. "You'd spend less money in Grand Rapids, but Miss Valentine did get some nice furniture together, if you like antiques. She has a lot of fancy glass, too, the kind that breaks if you look at it"

"I'll be careful," I said.

"Have fun at the Fair, Katherine. I'll see you around."

I left Garth sitting on the bench with the black dog lying placidly at his feet and headed east. The winds were picking up, making it feel cooler. I was glad my dress had long sleeves. Leaves swirled around in the air, trying to find a landing place. They blew against my ankles and flew across the street ahead of me as if they were alive.

I hoped that Garth was wrong about the change in weather, but I knew that these brief golden days of autumn were always short-lived. I vowed to make the most of them. When winter weather came, I wanted to be settled in my new house and acquainted with the town and the people who lived here. Meeting Garth MacKay and looking for furniture at the yard sale were two steps in the right direction.

* * * *

The Bell House was a white frame structure with clean, classic lines and gingerbread-trimmed gables. Its only decoration, an American flag, swayed gently in the wind.

Mahogany and maple furniture, mostly chests and tables, were arranged in the front yard in rows, giving customers ample room to navigate between them. On the lawn, a green wicker table set with pink dishes gave the impression that the mistress of the house would appear at any moment bearing an invitation for lunch or afternoon tea. Lamps, crystal candleholders, and china covered every visible surface, often displayed on crocheted doilies or scarves.

The woman who presided over this elegant yard sale sat in a gold Queen Anne chair on the lawn reading a book. Her blue shirtwaist dress and rows of pearls were reminiscent of the fifties, while the straw hat with its long blue ribbon dated from an earlier era. Light brown hair streaked with gray framed her face, and the soft pink color of her nail polish matched her bracelet.

She rose to greet me, saying in a soft voice, "Welcome to the Bell House. I'm Cora Valentine. Please help yourself to a glass of cider as you look around. It's from our local mill. The sandwiches will be ready in a few minutes."

The cider, already poured, gleamed in tumblers that encircled a punch bowl set on a shining maple sideboard.

"Everything out here is for sale," she said. "We have vintage clothing and jewelry inside and old storybooks, the kind your great-grandmother used to read. I'm especially proud of our antique hat collection." She twirled the long blue ribbon on her hat. "The one I'm wearing belonged to my own grandmother. Let me know if you see anything you like. Chances are I can tell you a little bit about its history. Please keep in mind that all profits are going into a fund to restore and maintain this wonderful old house."

Probably Miss Valentine gave a variation of this speech to everyone who came to the yard sale, but the warmth in her voice and her obvious love for her project made her words seem like a personal welcome.

She returned to her reading, and I surveyed the outside area. I decided to look at furniture first because once I began to wander among vintage clothing and jewelry, I would get lost in time.

At present, I was the only customer. Garth's sister was nowhere in sight. She must have returned to find the sale in capable hands and hurried back to the Fair, taking an alternate route. Another blonde girl, wearing a short flapper's skirt, came out of the house with a tray of sandwiches and began to add them to the sideboard.

As I moved past her en route to an arrangement of side tables, I saw an exquisite parlor lamp on top of a tall lingerie chest. Like a glowing jewel, it seemed to beckon to me. The ruby and white cabbage roses on the creamy milk glass globes evoked the graciousness of another era. I could already see the lamp shining in the bay window of my living room. Here was the one object I had to have. Once I owned this treasure, I would have pure mellow light for all the dark winter evenings to come.

Reverently I touched the sun-warmed surface of the globes, looking for a price tag. With the instinct of a skilled antique dealer, Miss Valentine appeared quickly at my side.

"Now there's a rare find," she said. "The owner inherited that lamp from her Great-Great Aunt Elsbeth and had it converted from oil to electricity. It works too. If you'd like, we can test it in the house."

"It's so beautiful," I said.

"And a real bargain for only seven hundred dollars."

I had a hard time removing my hand from the globe. "Well, that's a little - pricey."

"But you'll be buying a genuine piece of history, not a reproduction from a catalog."

The temptation was great, almost too much to resist. I had my credit card with me, but I also had a mortgage payment to make and furniture to buy. I wouldn't get a paycheck until I had worked for two weeks. That translated into the beginning of December. But if I didn't buy the lamp, I knew that I wouldn't be able to forget about it.

"Don't wait too long," Miss Valentine said. "Someone else is sure to snatch it up. I'm expecting a crowd after lunch."

Garth's comment about Miss Valentine pricing the sale items too high came back to me. In spite of her optimism, I didn't think eager customers would overrun the yard sale soon, all of them descending on this one antique lamp.

She said, "If you really want it, I could come down on the price a little. Say six hundred and fifty dollars?"

"That's better, but I'll have to think about it."

"Certainly, but not too long. My motto has always been, 'When you see something you want, take it before somebody else does.'"

I was amused at the thought of this gracious, soft-spoken lady going through life grabbing whatever she desired. Was she talking about things or people? And had she ever lost something because she hesitated, as I was doing now?

It didn't matter. If ever I'd had an irrelevant thought, it was that one. "I may be back for it," I said and returned to looking at furniture.

As it turned out, I didn't make a single purchase, although I seriously considered the lingerie chest and a glass-topped maple coffee table with an elaborate scrolled design carved into the wood. Finally I decided that the scratches on the table went beyond the fashionable distressed look. And I didn't need the chest yet, although the whimsical wildflowers painted on the drawers were almost as tempting as the lamp.

I left the Bell House knowing that I was going to return. I'd walk back to the Fair, look around a little longer, and maybe have an early dinner at the Blue Lion. While I was doing this, I'd weigh the pros and cons of making the extravagant purchase. Then I'd return to the Bell House and hope nobody else had bought my lamp. It was a simple and sensible plan. I never expected anything to interfere with it.


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Re-Release February 2006

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Original Cover

July 2004


  Praise for Cameo Clue:

Ms Bodoin has once again ensnared her readers by giving them an old fashion who
done it kind of mystery romance. This story will keep your guessing and at the edge of
your seat and turning the pages. The twists and turns in this story are enthralling by all
the detailed writing; it makes you feel as if you are in Maple Creek. If you, like me, love
to read an old fashion who done it mystery romance then this book is for you. You will
not be disappointed. Cherokee - Coffee Time Romance & More


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