Foxglove Home Meet Dorothy

 

 

2005

A Shortcut Through the Shadows won a Golden Wings award in the Cozy Mystery genre.

 

Book 4 in the Foxglove Corner Mysteries


When Jennet's rescue collie, Winter, saves a child from drowning, he attracts the attention of a mysterious man who offers Jennet $1000 for him. Another man believes that Winter belongs to his missing sister, Alexandra. Life in peaceful Foxglove Corners turns deadly when Jennet and her dogs find the body of a young woman buried in the woods. With her possession of Winter in jeopardy, Jennet determines to find her collie's original owner, thereby interfering with a killer's plan.
Excerpt follows.

Chapter 1

 
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A high wind blew out of the east, drifting dead leaves over the flowers on Jonquil Lane and chilling the spring air.

I knotted the ends of my scarf under my chin and tightened my grip on Halley's leash. Turning away from the gusts, I took a few steps toward the west, where Camille Forester's yellow Victorian glowed against a backdrop of dark woods. This was my favorite walk and the best way to unwind after a hectic day of teaching at Marston High School.

The collies had their own ideas. My raven-black Halley balked and started to nibble at the blades of grass growing around the mailbox, while my blue merle, Winter, who was off his leash, dashed across the lane and ran into the wind. With their long fur blowing back, my dogs were so beautiful and exuberant that I longed to indulge them.

"All right, we'll go that way," I said. "Winter! Heel!"

Winter turned his head to glance at me as if to gauge my mood. I repeated the command in a sharper tone and waited. Suddenly he froze, ears held high at attention, tail motionless. In the next instant, he raced up the lane and disappeared around a curve, a blur of silver and black.

No one was listening to me today. Not my students, not my dog. I wanted to scream in frustration, but first, I had to catch my runaway collie.

Halley, chafing at my side, yelped impatiently and lunged forward, as far as her leash would allow. I let her drag me into a run, while disjointed thoughts whirled through my mind.

Winter always obeyed me...Sooner or later...He despised his leash...I should never have let him run loose, even though traffic on Jonquil Lane was light...And he always came when I called him...Eventually.

I had to run faster, or I might lose him.

There was a car in the lane, moving from the east with the wind. I heard the humming motor and quickly led Halley to the side minutes before a bright blue convertible rounded the curve. My mind registered a vintage Cadillac and a man and woman, both of them dark-haired. The driver was traveling too fast for this country road where an animal might be running free.

But no squeal of brakes, no ominous thump of a heavy body, had shattered the afternoon silence.

The woman in the passenger's seat wore a scarf as yellow as the daffodils that grew wild along the lane. Its edges floated around her head in the wind, and she was laughing. She waved to me as the convertible sped by.

I watched as it passed Camille's house and disappeared from view. The woman was familiar, but I couldn't recall where I'd seen her. I would never have forgotten that flashy blue car, though.

As the hum of the motor faded, a high, thin cry pierced through the deep afternoon silence. Borne on the wind, faint and faraway, it sounded desperate. An image of Winter lying by the side of the lane flashed into my mind and set my heart racing.

What if the speeding driver had struck him and driven on, his passenger laughing in the blowing wind, waving to me?

I ordered this morbid scenario to dissolve. The sound hadn't come from a canine throat, but something needed help, maybe another pet in distress or a wounded wild creature. Winter had sensed that, and, true to his breed, turned into a collie on a rescue mission.

Of course. Otherwise, he would have responded to my command.

I tried to run faster, to keep up with Halley. By the time I caught sight of Winter, I was gasping for breath. We had covered a mile, but our mad dash was over.

Ahead on a slight incline rose a sparkling cream house built in Tudor style, with clean, classic lines, a rolling expanse of lawn, and a pond. Winter was dragging something that looked like a large stuffed toy from the edge of the water onto the grass. His thick coat was sopping wet and streaked with mud.

As I drew near, I saw that the toy was a little girl in a pink dress. Her short yellow hair lay against her head like seaweed, and her small body was drenched. She was as limp as a doll that has been immersed in a tub of water.

The child wasn't making a sound. Dear God, she couldn't be dead.

Winter released his hold on the little girl's sleeve, shook himself, and lay down beside her, panting heavily, his dark eyes fixed on me. He had done his part. The rest was in my hands.

You can do this, Jennet, I told myself, as I dragged bits and pieces of my CPR and First Aid knowledge out of the air. See if she's conscious, if she's breathing. She needs to be warmed. Find a blanket and something hot for her to drink. Call 911. Move!

I let Halley's leash fall to the ground and told her to Stay in my sternest voice. Kneeling on the grass, I touched the child's cheek. It was cold, but she was alive, definitely breathing. "Honey, are you all right?" I asked.

"No." She started to whimper. "I got wet."

Impatiently I pushed the scarf off my hair and let it rest against my shoulders. I felt as if the ties were choking me. Halley began a high pitched yipping. Not to be outdone, Winter joined in the clamor, while I tried to think.

Except for the occupants of the convertible who were long gone, Jonquil Lane was deserted. I glanced up at the house. Built last fall, it had been vacant until recently. I didn't know the owners. The little girl must live here, though, and someone had to be home because the door was half-opened.

But no one had come rushing out to investigate a disturbance in the front yard. A rush of anger spiraled through me. Who would leave a small child unattended with a pond in the front yard? Near a country lane where a car might speed by and run her over?

"Can you tell me your name?" I asked.

"Cinny. She grabbed for Winter's fur, an indignity he permitted. He licked her face.

"Here, Cinny, come to me."

I took off my cardigan, wrapped it snugly around her shivering body, and gathered her in my arms. What now?

Calling for help and finding the child's mother were the next crucial steps.

Telling Halley and Winter to Stay, I carried her to the porch, pounded on the door, and waited, all the while trying to formulate an alternate plan. If no one was home, I was wasting valuable time. I might have to backtrack with the child in my arms and call for help from my own house. Or, better still, let myself into the Tudor and look for a telephone.

I pressed the doorbell, hoping the sound of its ringing would carry farther than my knocking.

A series of musical chimes floated out through the opening, but no one appeared. With visions of another looming tragedy playing through my mind, perhaps an adult lying unconscious inside, I rang the bell again.

At last footsteps echoed on a hardwood floor. A young woman in a low-cut black sweater opened the door all the way. For a moment she stared. Her color seemed to fade to a shade lighter than her platinum blonde hair. "Oh, my God, Cindy!"

She made no move to take the child from my arms but stood like a statue, disbelief and horror etched on her face.

Uninvited, I stepped over the threshold. "There's been an accident at the pond. Is this your little girl?"

"No . . ." Slowly the statue came to life. "Here, let me have her. What happened?"

I relinquished the small bundle and glanced behind me to see if Halley and Winter had obeyed my Stay order. They lay close together on the grass, observing the proceedings with grave expressions.

"One of my dogs pulled her out of the pond," I said. "You'd better call her parents and 911. She seems to be all right, but you'll want to make sure."

"Poor baby." The woman pushed back a strand of Cindy's wet hair and let her hand rest on the child's forehead. The long, tapered nails on her right hand were covered with black polish. Those on her left hand were bare.

She carried Cindy over to a sofa upholstered in rich green velvet and deposited her on the cushions.

"There's no need to get EMS involved," she said. "I'll just dry her off and change her clothes. She'll be fine. I know. I have nurse's training."

Ignoring this outrageous speech, I said, "Who knows how long she was in the water?"

While I waited for the woman to answer, I studied my surroundings. The furniture in the living room was dark and heavy. Everything looked new and expensive, except for the ragged toy dog lying on its side in the middle of the floor. It was a brown and white spaniel, the kind that walks and barks with the help of a battery. I'd bought one for Halley when she was a puppy, but she'd been afraid of it.

I suspected that the woman wasn't going to reply. Toward the back of the house, a television piped laughter, clapping, and loud, annoying music through the rooms. Otherwise, the house was as quiet as the lane.

I tried again. "Is Cindy's mother home?"

"The mother's passed on. I'm the housekeeper, Addie Everett."

Addie brought a throw down from the closet shelf and covered the child. "I can't imagine how Cindy got herself out through the door and all the way to the pond," she said.

"You have to watch children every minute, I guess."

"You'll be okay, my darling." Addie reached across a side table for a stuffed doll and plopped it down at Cindy's side. "Here's Raggedy Ann."

I didn't have any children, but if Cindy were my daughter, I would never be so careless with her.

"Those ponds are beautiful but they're dangerous for children," I said. "Cindy might have drowned if my dog hadn't pulled her out."

"Not in that little bit of water."

"A child can drown in a bathtub."

This rescue had taken a strange turn. In a dark corner of the room, a Grandfather's clock ticked away the minutes. Cindy was still in her wet clothes, while Addie and I exchanged obvious observations. "I think you should have someone look at her," I said.

I was being pushy, but Addie Everett's cavalier attitude grated on my nerves, and my concern for the child's welfare tugged at me. Thank heavens Winter had heard Cindy's cry. Fortunately, he had super keen hearing and the heart and stamina of a rescue dog.

"Like I told you, I went to nursing school," Addie said. "If I think Cindy needs medical attention, I'll take care of it."

Cindy's sobs had diminished. She'd thrown her arm around her rag doll and buried her face in the throw. Against the blue and green plaid, her hair shone like golden silk.

I said, "If you're a nurse, I suppose it's all right, but I still think..."

"There's no need to worry Mr. Ross about this." Addie's brisk dismissive tone was like a slap in the face. "The poor man has enough on his mind, what with working and trying to keep his household afloat."

I stared at her, hearing the second message embedded in her words, the real one. Addie Everett didn't want anyone to know what had almost happened, least of all Cindy's father. If he learned the truth, he would be upset, and she might lose her position. That was why she didn't want to call 911. I didn't believe for a second that she was going to tell Mr. Ross about the accident.

"So everything's under control," she said.

I planned to introduce myself to Mr. Ross soon, maybe tonight, and give him a full account of Cindy's brush with tragedy. I tried never to meddle in other people's affairs, but in this instance, not to act would be criminal. The world was filled with hazards waiting to lure an unattended child to her death, and Cindy couldn't take care of herself.

Addie swept the throw off Cindy and tossed it onto a stool. She handed the dripping cardigan to me. "If you'll leave now, I want to take Cindy upstairs and get her out of these wet clothes."

I had no intention of lingering. My role in this harrowing incident was finished.

"Goodbye, honey. I'll see you again." With a light farewell pat on Cindy's arm, I walked to the porch. Addie Everett followed close behind. Without a word of thanks or farewell, she pushed the door shut.

My dogs lay together at the foot of the stairs, panting and watching the antics of a flying leaf. I picked up Halley's leash and called to Winter. When they were both at my side, prancing around at my feet and wagging their tails, I gave them each an enthusiastic round of praise and petting.

"You are such a brave dog, Winter," I said. "The smartest, finest collie in the world. You too, Halley. My good dogs."

We were only at the beginning of our walk, but it felt as if hours had elapsed since I'd left my house. The mile's run to the pond would suffice for today's exercise. I craved a cup of tea and a short recovery time from the tension. For today, we'd head just back home, moving at a brisk pace. My sweater was wet, and the nip in the air reminded me that spring was only a few days old.

This was a season of warmth and beginnings, and disaster had passed by. Still, in the deepening darkness, I shivered and walked a little faster. The temperature was falling.

* * * *

In the fading daylight, I drove back up the lane to the Ross house. A lamp burned in a window on the first story. Hoping that Cindy's father was home and the housekeeper gone, I pressed the doorbell and listened to the first chime notes.

The man who flung open the door held a cup of coffee in one hand. He hastened to hide his impatient frown with a welcome smile. The sleeves of his blue-striped dress shirt were rolled up to his elbows, and his thick blond hair was mussed. I'd interrupted him at work. Apparently he was going to pretend that he didn't mind.

"What can I do for you?" he asked.

"I'm Jennet Greenway from the Victorian farmhouse down the lane," I said. "You must be Mr. Ross." That was enough formality. "I stopped by to find out how your daughter is doing."

"I'm Will. Nice to meet you, Jennet. Come in." The frown returned, and his dark eyes narrowed. "Cindy is fine. How do you know my little girl?"

Obviously Addie Everett hadn't told him about the pond incident. Nor had she called EMS. I never thought she would. As I enlightened Will, his eyes flashed in anger. He banged his coffee cup down on the side table.

"Addie knew she wasn't supposed to let Cindy out of her sight. Jennet, would you wait here? Make yourself comfortable."

He ran up the stairs, disappearing into the darkness. A moment later, soft light flooded the second story. I sat down in a Queen Anne chair and once again surveyed Will's living room. In spite of the fire in the wood stove, it had all the warmth of a museum or department store window display. Not even the scent of fresh coffee that lingered in the air or the scattering of papers on the coffee table could make the room inviting.

The Grandfather's clock and the toy dog in the middle of the floor provided the only cozy touches. I sat back, resting my hands on the arms of the chair and listened to the ticking. Overhead, footsteps sounded on a hardwood floor, and a child wailed.

In exactly ten minutes, Will bounded down the stairs with Cindy in his arms. He had wrapped her in a soft yellow blanket and held her as if she were the most precious thing in his world, which, of course she must be. Here, finally, was the reaction I'd been looking for.

"I think she's okay, but I'm taking her to Emergency. Just in case." With a quick glance around the room, he added, "Thanks, Jennet. Switch on the porch light, and lock the door behind us, will you?"

Ah, that was my role. Well, I was happy to fill it.

"My wife wanted that pond," he said, as he crossed the lawn to the black Saturn parked in the driveway.

Will backed out to the lane at a high speed and headed east. As I walked to my car, I paused to look at the pond. By the light of the porch lamp, the water shimmered. It was beautiful and deadly, like the platinum-haired woman with the black fingernails who had let her little charge wander into danger.

Almost certainly, Will's next act would be to hire a new housekeeper. A child could never be replaced, and Winter wouldn't always be nearby to rush to the rescue.

I couldn't wait to leave this place and sit in front of my own fire with another cup of tea. Still, I knew I'd return soon, walking my dogs this way and stopping at the Tudor to make certain that Cindy Ross was all right.

 

Reviews

Shortcut earned four stars in the Romantic Times Book Club!

"As usual, Ms. Bodoin's writing is clever and intriguing. This is a book that you can't put down--I'll admit freely that I read it all in one sitting! The characters (Jennet, Winter, Halley, Crane, Lucie, etc.) are as engrossing and witty as ever. Every word of A SHORTCUT THROUGH THE SHADOWS is a joy to read." ~ Beverly Forehand, Rountable Reviews

 

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