Read EMBELLISHED TO DEATH Online
Authors: Christina Freeburn
Praise for the Faith Hunter Scrap This Mystery Series
DESIGNED TO DEATH (#2)
“Battling scrapbook divas, secrets, jealousy, murder, and lots of glitter all make
Designed to Death
a charming and heartfelt mystery.”
Author of the Crime of Fashion Mysteries
“Read this fun book and you will never think of washi tape in quite the same way again, I promise. Christina Freeburn's second installment in her scrapbooking mystery series is full of small-town intrigue, twists and turns, and plenty of heart.”
â Mollie Cox Bryan,
Agatha Award Finalist,
Scrapbook of Secrets
“[Freeburn] is able to weave in humor, but also suspense, and even a little bit of romance...If you're a series lover like me, you'll be happy to know that is the second in the Scrap This series, and a third is due in 2014.”
â Kerry Hammond,
“This is a fun series with very likable characters you will want to visit with again and again with every new book. Even if you are not a fan of scrapping (and I'm not â it's about the only craft I never got into) you will enjoy the series as it is not heavy with information about the hobby â as some hobby series can be. And if you are into the hobby, there are hints at the back of the book.”
â Kate Shannon,
Rantin' Ravin' and Reading
CROPPED TO DEATH (#1)
“Christina's characters shine, her knowledge of scrapbooking is spot on, and she weaves a mystery that simply cries out to be read in one delicious sitting!”
â Pam Hanson,
Multi-Published Women's Fiction Author
“This was a great read that had me reading non-stop from the moment I turned the first page. The author did a good job in keeping me in suspense with plenty of twists and turns and every time I thought I had it figured out, the author changed the direction in which the story was headed...The writing flowed easily and I liked the cast of characters in this charming whodunit!”
â Dru Ann Love,
Dru's Book Musings
“Witty, entertaining and fun with a side of murderâ¦When murder hits Eden, West Virginia, Faith Hunter will stop at nothing to clear the name of her employee who has been accused of murder. Will she find the real killer before it is too late? Read this sensational read to find out!”
Shelley's Book Case
“A cozy mystery that exceeds expectationsâ¦.Freeburn has crafted a mystery that does not feel clichÃ©d or cookie-cutterâ¦.it's her sense of humor that shows up in the book, helping the story flow, making the characters real and keeping the reader interestedâ¦And she promises more Faith Hunter booksâI hope she writes fast!”
â Cynthia McCloud,
Scrapbooking is Heart Work
Books in the Faith Hunter Scrap This Mystery Series
by Christina Freeburn
CROPPED TO DEATH (#1)
DESIGNED TO DEATH (#2)
EMBELLISHED TO DEATH (#3)
EMBELLISHED TO DEATH
A Faith Hunter Scrap This Mystery
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Collection
Trade paperback edition | September 2014
** UNCORRECTED PROOF ** ADVANCE READER COPY **
Note: This is not the final edition and may contain errors.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including internet usage, without written permission from Henery Press, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Copyright Â© 2014 by Christina Freeburn
Author photograph by Kristi Downey
This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Printed in the United States of America
The sun peeked over the ridge and cascaded a multitude of colors onto Cheat Canyon, near the Cheat Lake resort area in West Virginia that would be our home and workplace for the weekend.
accompanied the rumble and hum of the truck engine as Steve navigated the changing grades of Interstate 68. I was thankful for the almost non-existent traffic at six-thirty in the morning. The borrowed truck used all its power towing the large trailer filled with scrapbook supplies. As the main vendor for the Cropportunity National Scrapbook Day retreat, I convinced my grandmothers that bringing half the store's inventory to the event was a good thing. I might not think so when Steve and I had to unload and set it all up, but hopefully the retreat would pay off by putting us in the black before mid-year.
Up, over, and winding through the mountains was quite the experience as vehicles zipped past us. Steve remained calm and collected even when a tractor trailer managed to get up and over an incline before us. I had spent the last two hours drawing in gasps of breaths and closing my eyes. Going down was as bad as going up. Gratitude shot through me every time we passed a truck escape ramp and didn't have to use it. It wasn't that I didn't trust Steve's driving, I didn't trust all the other drivers on the road. Some seemed to travel way faster than they should when hauling rigs filled with goods, and especially when driving metal barrels labeled “gasoline.”
I cringed as another truck flew past us. Fortunately for the driver, the song was at my favorite part so I didn't unplug my phone and snap a picture of the license plate and call the number listed on the bumper sticker. Good thing as I also didn't know if there was enough time for me to list out all my complaints before we got to the resort.
I retrieved my insulated cup from the cup holder and sipped my mocha cappuccino. The trip had me wired enough, so I used drinking as a way to keep myself from offering Steve driving advice. Again. Steve did not need any more of my suggestions and critiques on the speed, closeness, and switching lane techniques he used. I'd already offered my views on staying put in a lane, slammed my foot on the imaginary brake multiple times, and pointed out the emergency ramps. Steve had offered to let me drive, directing my attention to the rest stop and emergency lanes.
Fortunately, both of us knew that wasn't the best idea. I wasn't a bad driver. I was actually pretty good. I had only been in two fender-benders and received one speeding ticket in my almost thirteen years of driving. But I was used to driving small cars. The truck we borrowed from Wayne and Wyatt Buford was massive, and we towed an equally large trailer behind us. If I had driven, there was the likelihood we wouldn't reach the retreat until the day it ended.
“We'll be there soon.” Steve smoothly took what I hoped was one of the last curves to our destination.
I normally loved the different views the elevation of West Virginia offered when on a drive. I loved reaching a peak and being able to see the “whole world.” The lakes, the rivers, the forests and, even at times, small houses scattered throughout the landscape. Then everything shifted and the world became more personal as the images were no longer distant and out of reach but close by and almost touchable.
Something about being in the truck, and hauling half a store behind us, set me on edge. Not a good way to start the awesome weekend I planned. The Cropportunity Weekend Getaways chose a resort a few miles from Cheat Lake for the Friday to Sunday retreat. It was a beautiful location, without a lot of shopping distractions, and a great view of the lake and mountains. A nice relaxing place for scrapbooking, bonding with friends, and maybe even some romantic moments for those of us with significant others along.
I was excited about this event for two...okay, three reasons. Scrapbooking time. Great venue for selling. Alone time with Steve, away from my grandmothers' watchful eyes. Hope and Cheryl wanted Steve and I together, but not
before we walked down the aisle. A wedding wasn't even in the distant horizon at this point in time, and I had no idea when I'd like it to appear.
The music cut off as my cell phone trilled. Ted's name and likeness flashed onto the screen. I fumbled for the phone and unhooked it from the auxiliary jack. Why in the world was Ted calling me at six-thirty in the morning? A question I hoped Steve didn't ask. Not that I'd have to lie, but it would still create an awkward beginning to a weekend I hoped had some romantic moments. It was common knowledge that homicide detective Ted Roget had more than a professional interest in me.
For some reason, Ted entertained wicked thoughts about me, and I unfortunately found myself wondering about the two of us every now and then. Something I shouldn't be doing as Steve and I were officially an item. I blamed it on my skittish nature when it came to relationships. I'd been scorched in the past and, while I wanted to leave the pain behind me, it lingered. And Steve had no idea about that time in my life, as did no one else in Edenâexcept for Ted.
The truck went around a sharp bend in the road. My stomach followed a few seconds later. The phone rang again.
“What?” I snapped, fumbling to keep the phone to my ear.
“Are you not a morning person, or have I once again caught you jumping into a heap of trouble?”
“How can I get into trouble sitting as a passenger in a truck?”
“If there's a way, you'd find it,” Ted said.
“I need to act as back up for GPS directions, so tell me why you're calling or I'm hanging up.”
“I got a call asking why you abandoned a car off exit ten. I knew you were going to Morgantown this weekend, and figured you found some mess to involve yourself in.”
“I don't do mayhem this early in the morning.”
“What's going on?” Steve asked.
I shrugged and held my hand over the phone speaker. “Ted called to ask why I abandoned a car.”
“Why would he think that?” Steve merged over a lane.
I shrugged again and turned the question over to Ted. “Why do you think that?”
“My brother called,” Ted said. “He asked why'd you'd be in Morgantown. There's an abandoned car off the exit and it has paperwork with your name laying on the passenger seat and alsoâ”
I was hurt. “So, instead of thinking I was possibly broken down or kidnapped, you figured I ended up in some sort of self-created trouble?”
“Well, I'm not.” My leg bounced up and down as anxiety raced through me. I knew I hadn't done anything wrong but an overpowering guilt complex built into my system went into overdrive. “What kind of paperwork was in the car? Directions to the scrap retreat?”
“Bob didn't specify too much.” Evasiveness leaked into Ted's voice.
He'd be horrible at planning a surprise party. “If Bob thought I had car trouble, why not look for me? What's going on?”
I craned my neck, trying to get a view of the approaching exit.
Ted groaned. “I should have known better than to tell you.”
Yes. He should have. His brother Bob was a private investigator. Of course, I'd be curious why the man found a need to check out an abandon car. “You brought it to my attention so tell me.”
Ted sighed. “I don't know.”
I snorted. “Not buying it. No matter. We're almost there. I'll get Steve to pull over so I can find out.”
“Do not stop. Just go to the resort. If you're needed, the policeâ”
“Police are asking questions?”
“Tell Davis to keep driving.”
I angled my body toward Steve. “Detective Roget says you should not stop at the abandoned car the police are examining that they believe is tied to me.”
A nerve in Steve's jaw twitched. “Did he now?”
“I did not say that!” Ted bellowed. “I did not tell you the police are looking for you.”
“You said if they needed to speak with me, they'd find me. So why not just stop and make it easy for them,” I said into the phone. “Do my civic duty.”
“And how are you going to explain magically showing up there?” Detective Smugness asked.
“The truth. Detective Roget from Eden called me and questioned me about my whereabouts.” I ended the phone call and pivoted to face Steve. “Detour?”
“Do I have a choice?” Steve eased the truck and trailer off the exit. “You'd find a way back here anyway. I'd rather you investigate while I was with you than alone. There's less chance of you irritating the police that way.”
Two cars were parked on the asphalt shoulder just off the exit. Sunlight glinted off a bright yellow SUV packed to the gills with scrapbooking supplies. So much stuff was in the car, crafting goodies spilled out the back. The driver's door was open. I clambered out of the truck.
Private investigator Bob Roget eyeballed the huge
Fix Your Flush
emblazoned on the sides of the borrowed trailer. He cupped his hand over his cell phone. “New business?”
“It was the only trailer available to borrow for the weekend.”
The van my grandmothers had rented wasn't large enough for the inventory I believed necessary for this venture, so I resorted to borrowing the trailer Wayne and Wyatt used for their plumbing business. Now, I owed them a favor. I wasn't too keen about it, but the worst thing the brothers could ask, would be for me to stop giving them spots at our singles mixer. Their mother, Gussie, was way more interested in her sons getting married and giving her grandbabies than her sons were interested in having a wife and child.
I tried looking into the SUV but the tinted windows made it hard to get a view of what was inside. I peered at Steve and Bob. Bob was having an intense phone call, and Steve was trying to get cars to move along rather than stop and gawk at us.
Good. The men were preoccupied. I nudged the SUV driver's door open a little more with my shoulder. No purse. No keys in the ignition. No cell phone. A stack of papers taunted me from the passenger seat. I squinted and stared hard at the top sheet. I made out my name but nothing else. Drat. I leaned into the car to get a better look.
“I wouldn't do that.” Bob tapped the screen of his cell and dropped it into the pocket of his white button-down shirt. He shoved the rolled up sleeves further up his amazing biceps. “The police are on their way.”
I turned myself, and my appraising eyeballs, away from Bob. The Roget men were good-looking guys. Intense green eyes. Nice builds. Red hair that fought to swoop over brows. Bob was more congenial than his brother Ted. Of course, I wasn't interfering in a police investigation, the way Ted and I usually spent time together. Me investigating, and Ted threatening to throw me in jail if I didn't stop.
“I'm not going to touch anything,” I said. “Just looking.”
“Famous last words.” Steve wrapped an arm around my waist and drew me away from the SUV. “How about you listen to this guy?”
I wiggled away from Steve. “I have every right to know what's in there that made him and Ted think I drove this car.”
“I wasn't worried that you were driving,” Bob said. “I was concerned about someone pretending they were you.”
“What?” I gaped at him.
Bob stood beside me and held out his cell phone. “Here are some pictures of what's in the vehicle. I'm tracking down an identity thief and have reason to believe they were on the way to the crop at Eagle Mountain Estate Resort. When I saw the contract with your name, and a photocopy of your driver's license, I got concerned.”
I examined the pictures. My name and signature were on the documents, along with a photocopy of my driver's license. I racked my brain trying to figure out when, and how, someone could've lifted my license and got a copy of it.
Steve looked over my shoulder. “You should run a credit check.”
I leaned back into his strong frame. Great, someone was trying to steal my identity. As if one of me wasn't trouble enough.
Bob's phone buzzed. He glanced at the screen. Worry knitted his brow together. “Ted ran the plates. The car belongs to a Marsha Smith. This isn't looking good.”
I wouldn't have to make numerous phone calls this weekend to cancel credit and debit cards. I walked around the SUV, inspecting the tires and ground. “She's one of the owners of the Cropportunity scrapbooking retreat business.”
“Her name is actually Marsha Smith?” Bob pulled out a stylus and typed on the screen of his cell.
“Yep. She's partners with Lydia Clement.” Packs of cardstock and patterned paper lay on the ground around the car. Small tubes sparkled from the grass on the hill side of the guardrail. Either Bob searched the car in a haphazard way, or Marsha left in a hurry.
“There are no flats, if that's what you're looking for,” Bob said.
I halted. “Maybe she ran out of gas.”
Steve removed his cell phone from his back jean pocket. “I'll call the resort and see if she's there. She might have broken down and walked to the resort.”
“Orâ” I began.
“Let's not turn this into a mystery you need to solve, Faith.” Steve shot me a hard glare.
Something I also ignored. When a man insisted I listen to him, I wanted to do the exact opposite. I blamed it on the time I allowed not questioning a man to place me smack dab on the police's radar as a murderer.
Frowning, Steve bounced the cell phone against his palm. “No one is answering at the resort.”
“We should head over and see if we spot her walking along the road.” I gathered up the packs of paper from the ground. I went back to the truck and carefully deposited the items into the small back seat.
“What are you doing?” Bob and Steve asked.
“Helping. I'm sure these are items for the door prize table or goodie bags. I don't want to leave them on the ground.” I retrieved some more items from the road. “They do have the crop's name on them.”