Here it is: the first chapter of my new book, Chrysalis: A Race to Death. It’s currently in final proofing. Expect it on amazon and at independent booksellers by early October!
I glanced at my mother, slipped the creamy silk pillowcase over the bed pillow and tossed it onto the double bed. “Your window has a great view of these beautiful old trees. They must be a hundred years old. Mostly oaks, don’t you think?” I spoke in my cheeriest voice, trying to pretend I wasn’t exhausted, wasn’t done in from packing and now unpacking hundreds of boxes full of the household things Sam and I had gathered during the seven years of our marriage.
Mother’s face was stoic, as usual. “Don’t ask me, Jamie. You’re the science guru. Don’t you know?” She ran her fingers through her short, gray hair and straightened her glasses before she pursed her lips and squinted at me. “Never thought I’d come back to live in Oklahoma, or have to move in with you and Sam. I’ve lost my privacy.” She sniffed, but I didn’t see any tears glittering in her eyes.
“It’s the best solution. You might fall again.” It was luck that my younger sister Ellen had found Mother on the floor not long after she fell, and that her only injury had been a twisted knee.
“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill, as usual,” she groused. “You shouldn’t have made me come here. All my friends are in Albuquerque, and your sister.”
I smoothed the bedspread and swallowed the words I wanted to say. Our new house had plenty of room. Ellen wasn’t going to take Mother in, and no one wanted her to live in a nursing home. At seventy-five, she could live with minimal assistance for many years, I hoped.
Mother moved over to the window and surveyed the still-green trees. A frisky autumn breeze chased a few skipping brown leaves down the street. “Cottonwoods would be turning yellow if we were in New Mexico. And then the aspens,” she whispered.
I tucked my shoulder-length hair behind my ears and glanced out the window. Sun reflected off the sides of the moving van as it backed down the driveway.
“You think they got everything out of that van?” Mother chewed one fingernail.
“Sam was arranging the boxes in the garage. I’ll go find your lamp.” I plugged the air freshener into the electric outlet next to the closet and adjusted the intensity bar so that the warm fragrance of vanilla poured into the room. “Why don’t you rest for a minute? I’ll be right back.”
Stacks of boxes, divided by uneven aisles, filled both bays of the garage. I rolled my shoulders, aware that my tense muscles were from more than carrying and unpacking boxes. Had we made the right decision to move my mother in with us? She wasn’t the only one losing privacy.
“Sam?” I called. “Any idea where the lamps are? The one for Mother’s room?” I glanced around the garage at boxes and more boxes. I’d packed every one of them, and now I had to unpack them and find places to put everything.
“I stuck it in with the others.” His voice, with its usual calm and almost melodic cadence, came from behind a tower of boxes. “I’ve piled the boxes according to room labels. Look for the living room section.”
I inched along the rows of boxes, studying the labels.
Sam came up beside me. “I could use a break. How about you?” He rubbed the back of his neck and stretched.
“I’m okay for now,” I lied. My muscles ached and the pain in my head throbbed. We had hours of work to do. I couldn’t stop yet.
Sam slid his arms around me. His brown eyes twinkled. “A new beginning here, in a new place. Are you happy?”
I brushed a glob of dirt from his hair, rubbed at a streak on his cheek, and nodded. “Yes. It feels good. I’m hoping for the best.”
“You mean, because your mother is living with us?”
I nodded again.
“It’s an adjustment for both of you,” Sam said. “But it’s the right thing to do.”
“I know it is. But I’ve loved having you all to myself.” I gazed up at him, full of amazement that his man was my husband, and that we’d found each other in mid-life.
Dimples drilled into his cheeks as he smiled. “Hey, you’ve still got me all to yourself. No change there.” He pecked my lips. “I need to take these books to the office.” He grabbed the handle of the nearby dolly and scooped up two boxes labeled ‘law books.’
“Want me to come with you?” I savored the salty taste he’d left on my lips. I wanted him to say yes. I wanted to have a few minutes alone with him, away from any prying ears.
I hid my disappointment by turning back to the boxes to search, but at the sound of the squeaky dolly, I stopped to watch him roll the books down the driveway to his truck. He stopped halfway and patted his pockets. “Hey, you’ve got my keys, don’t you?”
I nodded, reached into my pocket for the keys and then tossed them to where Sam waited ten yards away.
He grinned. “Good throw. You still got that good arm,” he yelled. “I’ll be back soon.” He pushed the dolly to the truck and unloaded the boxes into the back.
In the garage, I found the boxes labeled ‘lamps’, grabbed a box knife and slit the first one open. Inside, Mother’s bedroom lamp, swaddled in bubble wrap, rested beneath two small table lamps. The lamp had been a fixture in her bedroom for as long as I could remember. I hoped its familiarity would help her feel comfortable in her new surroundings.
As I carried the lamp into the house, Mother called from her room. “Jamie? A man is coming to the front door. I saw Sam leave. Should you answer it?”
I smiled. Our two dogs had just lost their status as chief watchers. Mother would beat them to the punch, sounding the alarm if we had company at the front door. She would love having a window that faced the street. We’d get a blow-by-blow description of everything that happened outside.
I glanced at the clock I’d already placed on a nail in the kitchen. The furry members of our family were due here in another hour. Their presence would turn this place from a house into a home.
The doorbell rang out a two-note call. I squinted through the peek hole at the man on the porch. He was tall, and most likely Native American, like Sam, judging from his black hair, high cheekbones and brown complexion. Dressed in khaki slacks and a white Oxford shirt, he didn’t look like a thief or a potential home invader. A friend of Sam’s? I shook off the uneasy feeling and pulled the door open.
“Hello,” I said through the locked glass storm door.
“Is Sam Mazie here? I was told this is his new residence.” The man studied me with dark eyes.
“As of today, it is. I’m Jamie, his wife.”
The man glanced around me and into the house. “Is he here?”
“Not at the moment.” As soon as I spoke the words, I regretted them. Even though he looked professional, he could still be a criminal. “I expect him back any second,” I hurriedly added.
“I’d like to talk to him today, if that’s possible.” The man reached into the pocket of his shirt. He pulled out his ID badge, with the letters OSBI printed in bold black, and a business card. I unlocked the door and took the card he offered. “I’m Detective Chase Longhorn, with the Cold Case Division of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation,” he explained.
My mind raced. Why would a cold case detective want to talk with Sam? My family was the one with an 80-year-old cold case, not Sam’s. “What’s this about?”
Detective Longhorn’s forehead creased, and his eyes narrowed. “I need to talk to him, Mrs. Mazie.”
“Is this about one of his cases?” Sam was very careful not to tell me much about his work, other than the bare basics. I quickly skimmed my knowledge of the current cases he’d mentioned.
Longhorn cleared his throat. “No.”
If not about one of those, what else was there? “His family?”
“It’s about the death of his first wife. When will he be back?”
The room dipped, and my fingers tightened on the door frame. This was about Reba? His first wife, and someone I knew little about. I wasn’t even certain how she’d died. “Less than an hour,” I finally said.
“I’ll wait in my car, Mrs. Mazie.” The cold case detective stepped off the porch.
I closed the front door as Chase Longhorn strolled out to his car, and then I took a deep breath. Just because this cold case detective wanted to talk to Sam didn’t mean anything was wrong. Don’t jump to conclusions. My heart was beating too fast to hear the advice my brain sent.
In the kitchen, I opened another box labeled ‘glasses’, unwrapped one, rinsed it in the kitchen sink, and dried it with a paper towel before filling it from the tap. I took a long drink. The cool, metallic-tasting water would take some getting used to.
Sam’s first wife, Reba, had died two years before Sam and I were reunited in Pawhuska nearly nine years ago. Decades had passed since we’d been childhood playmates. He had still been grieving for her at the time, and I had been grieving over my recently-deceased husband, Ben. Those first few months, as our relationship deepened, I sometimes caught Sam staring into space, his dark brown eyes distant, his forehead creased. I respected his privacy and said nothing.
On the other hand, that first year we’d often talked about my husband Ben’s cancer battle and eventual death. I’d even told him about the local sheriff’s suspicion that Ben’s death had been an assisted suicide. I’d shared my anguish over the horrible months both before and after his death. But, during all those discussions, Sam didn’t speak about Reba’s death. There hadn’t seemed to be any reason to delve into it. Wouldn’t Sam have told me if he had wanted to talk about it? Was there a reason he had not wanted to talk about it?
Cold cases. Unsolved crimes. What had happened to Reba?
Check back next week for a list of the characters in this book, and a bit of bio on each of them.
Chrysalis: A Race to Death is Book 4 of my Family Secret Series.