Please give a warm welcome to my Guest Writer this week. It’s Amy Reade. Before you read an excerpt from her book, here is a little bit about her:
Amy M. Reade is the USA Today bestselling author of The Malice Series, consisting of The House on Candlewick Lane, Highland Peril, and Murder in Thistlecross, all of which are set in the United Kingdom. She has also written a cozy mystery, The Worst Noel, and three standalone novels of gothic suspense: Secrets of Hallstead House, The Ghosts of Peppernell Manor, and House of the Hanging Jade.
Amy is a recovering attorney living in Southern New Jersey. She is active in community organizations and loves reading, cooking, and traveling when she’s not writing. She is currently working on a second cozy mystery and a historical mystery set in Cape May County, New Jersey.
The House on Candlewick Lane, Malice Series Book #1
Excerpt from Chapter One
By Amy M. Reade
The phone rang as I was gulping down my second cup of coffee, ready to head out the door to work.
“Hi. Is this Ellie’s mom?”
“This is Maureen from the primary school office, just calling to confirm that Ellie is out today.”
“No,” I answered, setting the coffee cup down with a clunk. “She should be there.”
“Okay. Mrs. Dennis probably just marked her absent by mistake. I’ll call down to the classroom and get back to you.”
“Thanks.” I hung up, frustrated with Mrs. Dennis. This wasn’t the first time she had been careless about marking Ellie absent when she was sitting right in front of her. And now I had to wait for the office to call back and was going to be late for my class.
I had folded half a load of laundry before the phone rang again.
“Dr. Dobbins? This is Maureen again. Mrs. Dennis said Ellie wasn’t in the classroom, so I went down to check. She’s not there.”
“Is she in the bathroom?”
“Mrs. Dennis said there’s no one in the class bathroom. I checked the bathroom in the hallway and she wasn’t there. She’s not in the nurse’s office, either. The custodian is checking the other bathrooms and the gym to see if she’s there.”
It wasn’t like Ellie to leave her classroom without telling the teacher. “Let me call my neighbor. She walked Ellie to the bus stop with her kids this morning. I’ll call you back.”
I hung up and dialed Dottie, my neighbor across the street.
“Hi, Dottie. It’s Greer. Did Ellie get on the bus okay this morning?” “Yeah. Why? Is something wrong? Is she sick?”
Dottie was known by all the moms in the neighborhood as a rabid worrier, and Ellie had been frequently sick this fall. The divorce seemed to be affecting her more now that she had started going to school.
“No, no,” I hastened to assure her. “They marked her absent because she’s not in the classroom.”
“Oh. She’s probably in the gym.” Ellie’s fondness for Mr. Leicester, the gym teacher, was legendary.
“You’re probably right. Thanks, Dottie. Talk to you later.”
I called the school right back. Maureen answered on the first ring. “My neighbor put her on the bus,” I informed her.
“She’s not in the gym, and Mr. Leicester didn’t see her this morning. I was just going into Mrs. Ravell’s office to see if Ellie’s in there.” I couldn’t imagine why Ellie would have to see the principal.
“Call me back as soon as you’ve checked.”
I finished folding the laundry and put my coffee cup in the dishwasher. I double-checked my makeup in the mirror and was standing in the front hall gnawing on my thumbnail when the phone rang again. It was Maureen.
“She’s not in with the principal. I made an announcement on the PA system asking her to come to the office.”
“When was that?”
“Right before I called you.”
A small, cold pit of worry was beginning to settle inside my stomach. The school wasn’t that big—even if Ellie were in the farthest reaches of the building, she should be at the office in under three minutes. “Can you just put me on hold until she comes to the office?” I asked Maureen.
“Sure.” I heard a click, and my ears were assaulted by the very loud radio station the school used as its hold music. I held the phone several inches from my head while I waited. I bit a hangnail on my index finger, then shook my head. “Stop it,” I told myself. I paced the kitchen and living room while I waited for Maureen to come back on the line.
About five minutes passed. I had practically worn a hole in the living room carpet when I heard another click, followed by Maureen’s voice.
“Dr. Dobbins? She’s not here yet. Are you sure your neighbor put her on the bus?”
The cold feeling in my stomach began to grow. “I’ll call her again and double check, but she said Ellie got on the bus this morning, just like she normally does.”
I dialed Dottie as quickly as I could. “Dottie, you’re absolutely sure Ellie got on the bus this morning?” I blurted out before she could even say hello.
“Of course.” She sounded a little hurt. “I remember specifically because I noticed as she climbed the steps onto the bus that her hair ribbon had come undone.” I’d tied a dark blue grosgrain ribbon in Ellie’s hair. “They haven’t found her yet?”
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Not right now. I’ve got to call the school back.” I gave her a perfunctory good-bye and hung up, my breath coming a little faster.
When I called the school again, Maureen put me right through to the principal.
“Dr. Dobbins, I don’t want you to worry,” she said soothingly. “I’m sure we’ll find her. But do you mind coming down here? If she’s hiding because there’s something bothering her, it might be a good idea to have you nearby just in case.”
I called the department chairman on the way to school and spoke to his secretary. I didn’t tell her the real reason I was going to be late, opting instead to blame my tardiness on the alarm clock. She said she would relay the message. The chair wouldn’t be happy to have to teach my class, but he would have to deal with it.
As I drove, my thoughts began to churn in sync with my stomach. What if Ellie had fallen asleep on the way to school? What if she were stuck on the bus in some parking lot, scared and crying? What if she were sick? Did the bus drivers check for sleeping kids when they finished their routes?
Worst of all, what if she had been kidnapped?