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ISBN 978-0-9913628-6-8 trade paperback
No. 7 in the Olympia Brown Mystery Series: Olympia accepts a winter contract in a picture-book church on Cape Cod, but someone in that idyllic setting is watching and waiting. When Olympia is trapped inside the old church along with her stalker in a killer New England blizzard, husband Frederick is too far away to help, and the police can’t reach her. Olympia becomes both the hunter and the hunted, and only she or the predator will survive the night.
Rev. Olympia Brown didn’t see the Valentine’s Day gift bag hanging on the back of the door until she was seated at her desk in the church office. Cheery pink and red tissue paper was spilling out of the top, and a tangle of curly ribbons twirled and tumbled down the sides. She grimaced and bit her lip.
It would likely be some sort of little trinket or useless knick-knack, the kind she particularly loathed—a statue of a sad-eyed kid in a nightgown or one more goddamn angel with a sappy message about how God is watching over you etched into the bottom. Only it wasn’t God watching over her. It was a woman named Emily Goodale who, from the day Olympia started a three month contract at the Salt Rock Fellowship, had attached herself to Olympia like a homeless kitten.
Seeing it hanging there, she recalled a warning from her days in seminary. The Pastoral Ministry Professor had looked over her glasses at the ministers in training and said, “Watch out for the note takers and the gift givers. You need to handle them with kid gloves, and at the same time you need to watch your back. They can spell trouble.”
“Damn,” said Olympia, half in defeat and half in resignation, “I thought I’d taken care of this.”
“Are you talking to me?” called a voice from the next room. It was Charlotte Herlihy, the church administrator, who had ears like a hawk has eyes.
“No, just thinking out loud. Do I have any appointments this afternoon? There’s something I need to sort out, and it can’t wait.”
“Clear on this end,” came the disembodied voice. “Anything I can help with? I can stay on, if you want.”
“I only wish there were.” Olympia grumbled under her breath. “No, thanks, Charlotte, I’m good.”
“Well, don’t stay too late. You don’t want to get stuck down here once that storm gets going. We don’t usually get too much snow on the Cape, but every once in a while we get totally hammered.”
“I hear you. My mother always said, ‘Better safe than sorry.’ That’s why we came in early, remember? So we could beat the storm. Do you know when it’s supposed to start?”
“The TV weather lady said it would probably begin in the early afternoon. It’s supposed to be nasty, rain turning to ice, then turning to snow. They’re talking about power outages and dangerous road conditions, the whole works. Come to think of it, they’ve already declared a state of emergency starting at two this afternoon, but we’ll be safely home by then.”
Wonderful, thought Olympia. With a sense of irritation and foreboding, she got up from her desk and retrieved the gift. Under the gaily colored tissue was a crushed dead rose, its stem snapped in two, and an unsigned children’s penny valentine bearing the word, “Forever.”
Until the previous Saturday night, only four days ago, Emily had seemed to be nothing more than a lonely, insecure woman who came to church looking for someone to befriend her. Now Olympia knew differently. She got up and walked into the next room to where the Office Administrator was sitting. She was a good-looking no-nonsense woman, likely in her sixties, who favored color coordinated slacks and tailored shirts over girlie frills and ruffles. Today she was dressed in shades of beige and tan.
“Hey, Charlotte, by any chance did Emily Goodale come in here this morning?”
“Not that I know of. I’ve been here since eight, and I unlocked the place.”
Then how and when did this latest little unwelcome gift get in here? Olympia bit her lip and reached for her phone. She didn’t have much time. This particular storm was bearing down on everyone.