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Monday, May 5, 2014

Murder at the Breakers--Excerpt and Contest

Note: My friend Alyssa Maxwell has a new mystery, Murder at the Breakers. Thanks to her generosity we have an except below--and one lucky person will win an autographed copy.
Enjoy ~
Your friend, Joanna
Midnight approached. At twenty minutes to twelve, liveried footmen and hired waiters began moving like a silent army through the Great Hall, wielding trays filled with glasses of Uncle Cornelius’s finest champagne. In the confusion, I lost sight of Neily. I spotted Grace’s rich, bejeweled coif across the room, but only briefly. Then she, too, disappeared from view, though she might merely have been obscured by the crowd. If the two were up to something, Aunt Alice would have to catch them at it herself. I had more pressing concerns.

Aunt Alice herself fueled my unease when she appeared at my shoulder. “We’re nearly ready to toast Gertrude and I can’t find Cornelius anywhere. Did you see which way he went?”

Oh, no. I’d been so concerned with Neily, Reggie, and Katie, I’d let Uncle Cornelius slip away. With less than twenty minutes now before midnight, surely he’d return any moment. But if he didn’t . . .

Brady might just then be making his way up one of the service staircases. Should I try to warn him that Uncle Cornelius was nowhere to be found? But how could I do that when I had no idea which room marked Brady’s destination? I thought back to what he’d told me that morning. He wished to return something he’d taken . . . borrowed . . . stolen . . .  something to do with railroad business. Then it had to have come from either of two places: Uncle Cornelius’s office, or his bedroom, both on the second floor.

I might have gone running up the grand staircase to search for Brady, but the second-floor rooms all opened onto a gallery that looked down over the Great Hall. I couldn’t risk being seen and followed, especially by a family member.

Aunt Alice gave me the perfect excuse to leave the Great Hall and devise a plan. “Emmaline, be an angel and check the billiard room. Tell that husband of mine if he doesn’t come at once he’ll spoil Gertrude’s night.”

I set off at nearly a run, my haste raising numerous eyebrows. Several men occupied the billiard room, but Uncle Cornelius wasn’t one of them. Instead of seeking him elsewhere on the first floor, I slipped quickly out through the double doors onto the rear piazza and then down the steps onto the lawn. The day’s rain had left the grass sodden, and moisture instantly soaked through my embroidered dancing slippers. They’d be ruined, but I hadn’t time to lament the fact. Toes squelching, I circled the side of the house, looking up as I neared the front. The second story was dark except . . . there! A beam of light passed across the windows of Uncle Cornelius’s bedroom. Brady must be inside.

I was about to hoist my skirts, scamper around to the front door, steal inside and up the service stairs when the light suddenly went out. I waited, staring into the darkness, my ears pricked. “Brady,” I whispered—stupidly, for at that distance and through the closed balcony door he could not have heard me. A minute or two passed. I decided my best course was indeed to run inside, but just then a sharp thwack from above rooted me to the spot. Two or three more clunks followed. Moments later, the balcony door swung open and sounds of a scuffle burst from inside the room.

“What? You!” a man’s voice exclaimed.

“Brady?” I cried out hoarsely, too frightened now for discretion.

There came a grunt, more scuffling, another thwack—louder and sharper now, like a gunshot piercing the quiet—and then the thud of something or someone hitting the stone balustrade. My heart pounding, I scrambled backward to get a better view, and as I looked up again, a dark silhouette tumbled over the railing and plummeted to the ground at my feet.


I cried out, then pressed both hands to my mouth. My heart pummeled inside my chest, and I stood motionless, breathless, staring down at the black heap before me, my brain thrashing to make sense of what had just happened.

With trembling fingers I lifted my hems from the wet ground and tiptoed closer, afraid to look, unable to turn away. The night closed around me like a fist, blocking out the house, the lawns, the nearby drive crowded with sleek horses and posh carriages. The music and lively hum of voices drifting from the piazza doorway faded. The crickets were silenced. I heard only the distant rumble of the ocean striking the cliffs at the base of the property.

A haze swam before my eyes, and through it I could make out scant details about the figure sprawled facedown on the ground: the formal tailcoat and tapering black trousers, the buffed dress shoes, the dark but graying hair. A notion rose like bile to choke me.

“Uncle Cornelius? Oh, God. Oh, no . . .”
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To learn more about Alyssa, go to

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Kiki Lowenstein and the Penny Pincher, Part I

Kiki Lowenstein and Penny Pincher: Part I

By Joanna Campbell Slan


Editor’s Note: The Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series features a scrapbooking mom whose creativity isn’t limited to papercrafts. Part I of Kiki Lowenstein and the Penny Pincher first appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Chicagoland Scrapbooker. Now we're sharing it with you!

“I saw this online and bought it for the store. I thought it appropriate,” said my friend Clancy Whitehead, as she handed me a wrapped present. In her tailored brown slacks, ivory silk blouse, and camel-colored cardigan, Clancy was the picture of elegance.

Meanwhile, I’m still wearing my maternity pants with the elastic panels. Although I tell myself that eventually the weight will come off, it’ll probably take forever. I’ve been a little down lately, feeling a touch of the post-partum blues. That’s probably one reason that Clancy bought me a gift.

My low mood is silly, because I have so much to be thankful for. My name is Kiki Lowenstein, and I own Time in a Bottle, a scrapbooking and crafts store in St. Louis. I’m the mother of three adorable kids, including three-week-old Tyler George, whom we call “Ty.” And my other half is a hunky cop, Detective Chad Detweiler.

Life is good, mainly.

Tonight starts the first of our Double-Dip Classes. Like the old Doublemint Gum commercials, we’re offering not one but two fantastic learning experiences. I’m excited about the projects I have planned for our scrapbookers. But I’m also a tad worried, because Iona Lippman has signed up for both classes, since she can be a bit rough around the edges.

“Go on,” prompted Clancy. “Open the gift.”

After my fingers carefully pried apart the pink polka dot tissue paper, I discovered an adorable sign nestled inside: “All our guests please us. Some by their coming, and some by their going.”

“Iona is definitely a ‘goer,’” said Clancy. “You can’t please her, Kiki. She’ll always find something to complain about. That’s who she is. So just relax about the classes tonight and try to have fun. Don’t let her ruin the evening.”

“Thank you,” I told my friend, “for everything.”

“You’ve got all your prep done?” she asked. “Anything I can do?”

“I’m fine,” I said. “First we’re doing the Keepsake Recipe Album. The assignment was for each scrapbooker to bring in a recipe that her family enjoys. A main dish. She should also have a photo of the food. Of course, if that’s not possible, we’ll work with just the recipe and leave a place on the scrapbook page for the photo. I assume all of them have been in to choose their albums?”

“Yes. Iona came in Friday. She doesn’t like the 8- by 8-inch size. She also didn’t like the color of the album cover.” Clancy pulled up a chair across from my big desk. Resting her face on her hands, she shrugged. “I told her you might have suggestions for customizing the cover.”

“I do.”

“What’s the second class?” asked Clancy.

“It’s called Tips from Interior Designers,” I said, withdrawing my handout from the bottom desk drawer. “Many interior designers use a 60-30-10 rule when working with colors. The dominant shade should cover 60 percent of the page, then two other colors would be 30 and 10 percent. I’m also showing the scrapbookers how they can ‘translate’ a photo of an interior design into a scrapbook page layout.”

“Fascinating idea,” said Clancy. “I’m glad I’m staying for the evening.”

“I am too,” I said.

As it happened, Clancy was a lifesaver. Two hours later, after listening to Iona complain non-stop about her album, I was happy to have someone there with a positive attitude.

“Not only do I hate everything about this album,” she said, “I don’t want a recipe book full of main courses. My specialty is dessert.”

I gritted my teeth. “Good. Since Valentine’s Day is next week, your assignment is to bring your favorite dessert and its recipe.”

“I’ll bring red velvet cake,” said Lisa Ferguson.

“No way!” shouted Iona. “I have my great-great-grandmother’s special red velvet cake recipe. It’s been passed down from the oldest daughter to oldest daughter. No one outside the family has ever seen it.”

“Whoa!” I spread my hands in what I hope was a placating gesture. “You can both bring your red velvet recipes. Since these are your personal cookbooks, duplication won’t be a problem.”

“There won’t be any duplication,” sniffed Iona, as she tugged her sleeves over her hands. Her fingers were chaffed and red from the cold. “My family recipe is simply the best. It’s never been copied. Not even close.”

“Suit yourself,” said Lisa, as she adjusted her cowl neck sweater. The weather had been unseasonably bitter. Most of my customers wore boots and gloves. Lisa was no exception. She’d arrived bundled up in a parka.

By contrast, Iona had worn a lightweight wool coat and kept her bare hands shoved deeply into her pockets.

The two women couldn’t have been more different. Iona bragged about every aspect of her life from her husband’s upcoming retirement plans to her own free time for crafting. Lisa had said nearly nothing. I knew she’d come straight from work, and she kept checking the time because her babysitter had to leave promptly at nine.

“Now that we have the matter of next week’s recipes settled,” I said, “Let’s turn our attention to Part Two of our Double-Dip. If you’d open your page kits, you’ll see I’ve already chosen your embellishments and paper for this cute scrapbook page. Clancy is passing around a copy of HGTV Magazine with a picture of the room that inspired this page.”

“That does it,” snarled Iona. “Kiki, every layout you do involves expensive embellishments.”

“She’s right,” added another customer, Avery Ailes. “I love scrapbooking but, gosh, it’s so expensive. I’ve priced these embellishments. They aren’t cheap.”

Clancy shot me a look over the heads of our customers. I could read my friend’s thoughts as easily as if she’d spoken to me: “Great…now what?”

Part II will appear in the Summer 2014 issue of Chicagoland Scrapbooker. Later this summer, we'll also post it here on this blog, so be sure to become a "follower" of the blog. To find out where to pick up your copy go to Chicagoland Scrapbooker  (