When wealthy retailer Otis Clementine is found dead in his palatial mansion, Chloe Bartlett happens to be on hand. And when the police declare his death to be a homicide rather than an accident, Chloe isn’t surprised—to her it felt like murder all along. And there’s no shortage of suspects—Otis’s many girlfriends, his wastrel sons, and even a disgruntled employee may have done him in—all hoping for a share of his vast fortune.
The handsome, if sometimes infuriating, Professor Mike Fellowes reluctantly helps Chloe investigate—but mostly counsels her to stay out of it.
But Chloe can’t do that because she knows something the police don’t—there’s a magical element to the murder, and as a witch, she’s the only one properly qualified to investigate all the angles.
Besides, Chloe has an additional reason for wanting to look into the crime—the dead man himself asked for her help.
Can Chloe catch the culprit before there’s another murder? Or will bodies begin to pile up on the glittering streets of Arthur King’s Court?
“Is that Chloe? I want to talk to Chloe Bartlett.”
The voice on the phone was high and querulous.
I recognized it only too well.
“Yes, Mr. Clementine. It’s me.”
“Don’t you take that tone of voice with me, my girl,” he replied. “I’ve donated a lot of money to that library of yours. If not for me, you wouldn’t even have the lights on in that place.”
That wasn’t quite true, but he had been a generous patron. I took a deep breath and willed myself to be patient.
“What can I do for you, Mr. Clementine?”
I asked the question to be polite, but I already knew what he wanted—it was the third Tuesday of the month.
“Now I want you to take this down,” Mr. Clementine said. “Do you hear me? Do you have pen and paper?”
“Yes, Mr. Clementine. I’m ready to write it down.”
“I want Robertson’s History of Rome, Volume One. That’s Ro-bert-son with an apostrophe ‘s’ at the end. Make sure it’s a history of Rome. Not anywhere else. And I want Volume One, not Volume Two. Do you understand that?”
“Yes, Mr. Clementine.” I glanced at the little clock on the phone. I’d only been talking to him for about sixty seconds, but it felt like ten minutes. “You want Robertson’s History of Rome, Volume One—not Volume Two.”
“I want Volume One,” Mr. Clementine said peevishly, as if that wasn’t what I had just said.
“I understand,” I said. “You want Volume One.”
“I understand,” I said again.
“Did you write it down?”
“Yes—I wrote it down.”
“Good. Because you brought the wrong book last time, and that was a complete waste of a day for me. I can’t afford to lose time because of your mistakes.”
I felt myself bristling—I had not brought the wrong book.
But I knew there would be no point in trying to explain that to Mr. Clementine.
He continued. “I want that book. Do you hear me? Bring it by my house today at eleven thirty. Don’t be late.”
Without waiting for a response, he hung up.
“The library doesn’t deliver, Mr. Clementine,” I muttered to myself angrily. “It’s not like ordering a pizza.”
But I realized there was no point in grumbling. I had gotten myself into this situation, and I wasn’t ready to get out of it.
At least not yet.
I was just sighing to myself and checking to make sure that we actually had the book he wanted in the system when I caught sight of a swift movement out of the corner of my eye.
I paused with my fingers over the keyboard.
I turned quickly.
I was just in time to see a tall form disappearing behind the stacks in the graphic novel section.
As I watched, a dark-haired, dark-eyed man peered around the corner of a bookcase.
He saw me looking at him and quickly darted back out of sight.
“Mike?” I said.
I wasn’t supposed to speak out loud in the library unless I was on the phone, but I was so startled that the word slipped out.
The man reappeared and smiled sheepishly.
It was indeed Professor Mike Fellowes.
He was the very definition of tall, dark, and handsome, and my heart gave a little flutter when I saw him.
It had been a little while since we’d seen each other.
He stepped out from behind the bookcase and moved toward me.
“Chloe—” he said.
Even in a whisper, his voice sent a tingle through me when he said my name.
But Mike got no further.
Another man was also hiding in the graphic novel section, and he stepped out also.
This man was tall, but not as tall as Mike, and he had longish blond hair with streaks of gold running through it. He was tan and athletic, and he wore a tight T-shirt that showed off his muscular torso.
His name was Joe Osgood, and he was often to be found perusing the comic books section and sneaking peeks over at me.
Mike, however, was a surprise.
Joe elbowed his way in front of Mike and walked over to the circulation desk where I stood.
“Hi, Chloe,” he said. “How’s it going?”
I glanced over at Mrs. Ludlow, who was eyeing me severely over the top of her silver-framed glasses. She hadn’t liked my conversation with Mr. Clementine on the phone, and she looked like she wasn’t going to like what was about to happen, either.
For that matter, I wasn’t sure I was going to like what was about to happen.
Joe leaned on the desk, and Mike quickly started toward us.
I wasn’t entirely certain, but I thought I saw Mike’s nostrils flare—something I’d never seen him do before.
A storm was definitely brewing.
Joe was staring at me, and his normally guileless blue eyes held a hint of challenge in them.
But that challenge wasn’t directed at me.
It was directed at the man behind him.
Mike came to stand just behind Joe, and he folded his arms across his chest.
“So how’s it going?” Joe said again.
I drew in breath to say something I hoped would be pacific when Mike interrupted.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.
There was a clear challenge in his tone, and once again, that challenge wasn’t directed at me.
It was directed at Joe.
Joe slanted a glance back at Mike.
“I’m talking to my girl—my friend. I’m talking to Chloe, who’s my friend.”
“Is that so?” Somehow Mike’s arms seemed to fold even harder.
Joe pushed himself off the desk and turned to face Mike.
I felt an urge to reach out and grab Joe’s arm, but I restrained myself.
“Yeah, that’s so,” Joe said. “Do you have something you want to say about it?”
The atmosphere suddenly grew very tense, and I was aware of the fact that all eyes in the library were turned toward the confrontation at the circulation desk.
“Yes,” Mike grated out. “I do have something I want to say about it.”
“Oh yeah?” Joe said. “Well, I have something I want to say, too.”
Mike arched a mocking eyebrow. He could be very superior and condescending when he wanted to be, and apparently this was one of those times.
“This ought to be good. Go ahead.”
A sneer twisted Joe’s good-natured face.
“July the Fourth.”
He only spoke three words, but the effect on Mike was electric. He turned pale and his mouth dropped open. His arms dropped to his sides, and his hands clenched into fists.
Then he turned without a word and stormed out of the library.
Joe stared after his vanquished foe, and a smirk lit up his face.
“Guess I showed him.”
“Oh, Joe,” I said softly.
I wanted to run after Mike.
But I knew that now was not the time—not yet.
“Well, I suppose I should be going, too,” Joe said. “I’ve got to get some work in today.”
I held out a hand. “Joe, wait. Don’t—”
He paused and looked back at me.
“Don’t go after him,” I finished. “Let Mike leave before you go out there.”
“Don’t worry.” Joe looked very pleased with himself. “I’m sure he got in his car quickly—I doubt he’s even out there anymore. Besides, I won’t rub it in.”
I frowned. “Rub what in?”
But Joe simply smiled and left the library.
If he’d been insinuating what I thought he’d been insinuating, that was probably wise.
I wasn’t some kind of prize to be won.
“Everything okay?” said a new voice.
I turned to see Rita Cavanaugh, the head librarian, walking up to the circulation desk.
Her black hair was pulled back into a chic chignon, and she was wearing a beautifully cut gray dress that was ideal for the hot summer weather and showed off her coffee-colored skin to perfection.
Somehow, even working in a dusty library, Rita always managed to look as if she’d just stepped off the cover of a magazine.
I, on the other hand, had a feeling that I was looking more than a little frazzled.
I could actually feel my curly brown hair frizzing even harder and working its way free of the careless ponytail I’d wrapped it in.
Dealing with three unreasonable men all at once could do that to you.
I blew a column of air up into my hair.
Rita gave me an understanding smile. “Looks like I arrived just in time.”
“Yes, you did,” I said. I glanced at the clock on my computer. “Mr. Clementine just called, and I’ve got to take his book over to him. And then I was just looking the book up when Mike and Joe started to have their thing.”
Rita continued to look calm and unperturbed. “Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered.”
I happened to glance down then and noticed for the first time that she was carrying a book in her hands.
“The Robertson book!” I exclaimed.
I glanced around.
“Sorry,” I whispered.
“I happened to overhear you while you were talking to Mr. Clementine,” Rita said. “So I took the liberty of pulling it from the shelves. It’s Volume One. Just like he wanted.”
She paused significantly. “We have Volume Two also.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’d better take that one, too.”
Rita gave me a conspirator’s smile and then turned to get the second book.
I began to gather up my stuff and glanced at the clock on the phone.
I’d need to hurry if I wanted to get there by eleven thirty.
Rita soon returned with Volume Two, but she hesitated before she gave it to me.
“You don’t have to this,” she said. “We don’t make house calls.”
“I know,” I said.
“Then why do you do it? Why take a book over to that cantankerous, rude old man?”
“I feel sorry for him,” I said.
Rita gave me a sympathetic look, and I accepted the book from her.
Then I left the library.
As I walked out the doors, I was immediately hit by a blast of the July heat.
The humidity was no joke, either, and beads of sweat began to form quickly as I settled into my very hot car and hoped that the air-conditioning would kick in soon.
Then I drove over to Camelot.
Camelot was the housing development, country club, and golf course that Mr. Otis Clementine had built, though it wasn’t really the main source of his wealth.
Mr. Clementine was, as he had said, a generous donor to the library—and to many other institutions and charities besides—and over the course of his life he had amassed a vast fortune.
Most of his money came from the Brian’s Baskets discount stores that he owned all over the country. The stores sold food and clothing, electronics and housewares, cleaners, toiletries, and all manner of products made out of plastic.
He was by all accounts a business genius, and he only dabbled a little in real estate.
So naturally, his dabbling was highly successful.
Mr. Clementine had actually been born and raised right here in Crabtree Bay, and though he certainly could have lived anywhere, he’d always promised himself that he’d build a castle and a kingdom here.
And he’d done just that with Camelot.
As I turned into the exclusive housing development, I could see Mr. Clementine’s house on a hill, dominating the landscape and looking down on all the other houses.
His house was immense, it was made of gray stone, and it even had a tall tower with a pointed roof.
It was, indeed, a castle.
I drove along, wincing just a little as I always did, as I glanced at the street names in the housing development.
Round Table Terrace.
Lancelot’s Love Lane.
There was even the inexplicably named Guinevere’s Gauntlet.
And then there was the largest street in the development—the one that led up to the towering stone house on the horizon and had no outlet.
Arthur King’s Court.
I could never figure out why he had chosen to transpose the name that way.
I supposed it was Mr. Clementine’s idea of a joke.
But after having been acquainted with Mr. Clementine for a few months, I had a feeling that the joke wasn’t something others were supposed to laugh at.
Instead, it was likely to be his way of laughing at us.
There was a glint from the tower up above, and I had a feeling that Mr. Clementine was sitting up there, watching me.
I continued on up the hill to the house, and I was surprised as I always was that there was no gate.
On the contrary, the house had a long, wide path up to it with no obstructions, and a circular drive curled around the front providing ample parking and access.
It was almost as if he were inviting people in—although I knew that likely wasn’t the case.
According to his housekeeper, Mr. Clementine very seldom entertained.
I parked the car and went up to the door, and that same housekeeper answered when I rang the doorbell.
Daphne Minton was a plump, middle-aged woman with brown hair cut into the same kind of sleek, shiny bob that I’d always wanted to try, but I knew my curly hair wouldn’t allow.
Daphne also had a good-natured face and a friendly manner that was somehow off-putting at the same time.
She was both welcoming and forbidding—a quality which I imagined served her well when dealing with tradesmen, contractors, or visitors. She always gave me a strange feeling of ambiguity—I never knew where I stood with her.
“Welcome back, Chloe,” she said.
She ushered me into the house and closed the door behind me.
The interior was all wood and stone and sparsely furnished—I supposed to make it look more like an ancient castle. The only real decoration in the vast front room was an enormous painting of the owner of the house that hung on the wall near the door.
It showed Otis Clementine as a much younger man. He’d had sallow cheeks and a deep, defiant cleft in his chin. His rich, dark auburn hair was swept back from his high forehead, and his piercing blue eyes stared out at the world like he meant to rule it all.
I paused to stare at the painting—somehow it made me shiver this morning.
Daphne cleared her throat and then twitched her finger at me impatiently.
“Mr. Clementine is waiting.”
Then she nodded significantly toward the stone staircase on my right.
I sighed. I had a sneaking suspicion that there was actually an elevator somewhere, but I trudged toward the stairs like I always did.
I got the distinct impression that somewhere up above, Mr. Clementine was laughing at me.
Climbing up the first flight was never that bad, and the next floor up actually changed from heavy stone to light, airy, very modern living quarters.
I climbed up to the next floor, and then I had to pause just a moment to catch my breath. The truth was Mr. Clementine’s tower wasn’t really that high up—the slenderness of the tower and the fact that the house itself sat on a hill gave the illusion of greater height.
From the current floor, I opened a wooden door and entered the tower.
Then I climbed up two more flights, pausing once on the landing between them to catch my breath and look out the window at Mr. Clementine’s expansive back lawn.
Then I reached the top and found myself facing a closed wooden door.
Mr. Clementine’s voice floated out, just as high and querulous as it had been on the phone.
Otis Clementine was in his late seventies, and his once-thick auburn hair—so vibrant in his portrait—had faded to white and thinned considerably. But his piercing blue eyes were just as sharp as ever, and he regarded me with a malevolent twinkle as I entered the room.
“Chloe, my girl! So you’ve finally arrived. Enjoy your walk?”
Mr. Clementine’s witty quip was followed by raucous laughter, and I was more sure than ever that there was an elevator concealed nearby.
Mr. Clementine wiped at his eyes with a slightly shaky hand. Then he fixed me with his sharp blue eyes again.
“Still, you’re young—you shouldn’t mind a few stairs! How old are you?”
The question was impertinent—and delivered that way—but I decided to answer it. The sooner our meeting was over, the better. And arguing with him would just prolong it—I knew that from experience.
“So I was right. Thirty-three! Just like my son Christopher.”
I sighed. Mr. Clementine’s habit of being contradictory was so ingrained that I didn’t even think he realized he did it anymore.
He continued. “He’s the older of the two, too. But insists on being called ‘Christopher.’ Won’t take a nickname and be called Chris like a sensible boy would do. Then there’s his younger brother. His name is Robert, but he goes by ‘Bobby.’ He’s not too good for a nickname.”
Mr. Clementine shot a glance over at me.
“Don’t just stand there hovering in the doorway, girl. Come in and have a seat. I want to have a look at my book—make sure you’ve brought the right one.”
I was reluctant to enter the room, but I stepped forward.
As I’d counseled myself before, the sooner I got this over with, the sooner I could leave.
“So you brought the book, did you?”
“Yes, I did,” I said as I sat down.
Mr. Clementine held out a slightly trembling hand.
“Give it to me.”
I passed over the book.
Mr. Clementine’s eyes were a bit weak, and I waited while he looked it over. I happened to notice a magnifying glass resting on a beautiful, ornate box decorated with sunflowers. I thought of offering the glass to him, but I figured he knew it was there and would use it if he wanted it.
As he continued to look the book over, a spiteful gleam came into his eyes.
But this time—thanks to Rita—I was ready for him.
“Nope,” Mr. Clementine declared emphatically. “This isn’t the book. This is Robertson’s History of Rome, Volume One.”
“Yes,” I said. “That’s the book you asked for.”
“No, it isn’t. Not a bit of it. I distinctly asked for Volume Two. Volume One is no good to me.”
His eyes glittered in triumph.
I felt a twinge of irritation, even though I was expecting that answer. Mr. Clementine always did this. No matter what book I brought over, he always said that I had to return tomorrow with a different one.
But this time, I simply reached into my bag and pulled out the other book.
“As it so happens,” I said sweetly. “I also have Volume Two right here.”
Mr. Clementine’s triumph turned to astonishment as I handed the book over.
As he examined the book, his astonishment turned to anger as he realized that I had indeed brought him Volume Two also.
“Confound you, girl!”
Realizing he’d admitted to his little scheme, he quickly covered his ire.
“Thank you for the book. Yes—this is the one I wanted.”
He cast another one of his piercing looks my way.
“You’re a clever one, aren’t you? You remind me of my wife, Clytie. Not in looks or coloring, but in cleverness. Clytie always was a sharp one. She knew how to think circles around me.”
Mr. Clementine paused and his expression grew dreamy.
He ran his gnarled hands over the box with the sunflowers, and it seemed for a moment that he forgot I was there.
Then a malicious twinkle lit up his eye.
“So tell me, clever girl, do you know what the name ‘Clytie’ means?”
“Yes,” I said.
Mr. Clementine looked startled. “Yes?”
“Yes—it’s a Greek name. It means ‘lovely one.’ The Clytie of Greek myth fell in love with Apollo, but he didn’t love her back. So she turned into a—”
“Sunflower,” Mr. Clementine said.
“In the later versions, yes. But in the earliest stories, she turned into a heliotrope.”
“Nonsense. It was a sunflower. The sunflower turns to follow the sun—just as Clytie turned to follow Apollo wherever he went in the sky. My Clytie went to follow the sun, too.”
“Sunflowers don’t actually do that,” I said. “That’s just an old wives’ tale.”
Anger flashed in Mr. Clementine’s eyes. “Chloe’s a Greek name, too. Did you know that?”
“Yes. And so’s Daphne for that matter.”
“Daphne? Who’s Daphne?”
Mr. Clementine gave a bark of laughter. “Old Minton? Now there’s an old wives’ tale. She couldn’t be less like Clytie if she tried. My Clytie was a blonde—a beautiful blonde. I never did care for brunettes.”
He shot me another look, and I could tell he was baiting me.
He reached for a magazine that was lying near the sunflower box and pushed it over to me.
“That’s my kind of girl. In fact, that is my girl—Heather.”
On the cover of Eastern Shore Today, a beautiful girl with close-cropped blond hair and a dazzling smile cavorted on a beach in a white sundress.
“She’s lovely,” I said. “Is she your daughter?”
Mr. Clementine sputtered. “My daughter? She’s my girlfriend. I’ve got all boys—four of them. She just had my latest one a year ago—Jaden.”
“Oh,” I said, startled. “She’ll make a beautiful bride.”
“Bride?” Mr. Clementine sputtered even louder. “Clytie was my only wife. I’d never marry that girl. She can’t hold a candle to my Clytie.”
I felt vaguely embarrassed. I wasn’t really interested in Mr. Clementine’s personal life. The white dress must have suggested the idea of a wedding to me.
That, and Mr. Clementine’s constant use of the word “wife.”
He continued. “No—Clytie was my only wife. But I lost her.”
I felt a rush of sympathy for the combative man in front of me. “She died?”
“She did eventually—at least according to the media. But I lost her when she left me. She was only twenty-two. She took off to follow the sun—just like her namesake did with Apollo.”
Mr. Clementine ran his hands over the box again.
“She ran off to Italy. Became a successful actress. She took my son with her. She’d be about fifty-seven now if she’d lived.”
“Your son?” I said.
Mr. Clementine had so many sons that it was getting hard for me to keep track of them all.
“Brian,” he replied curtly.
“Brian?” I said. “As in—”
“Brian’s Baskets. Exactly. I built that business up for him. And someday I’m going to give it to him. I’ve just got to find him first. He’d be about thirty-six now.”
Mr. Clementine looked up at me. “I only saw him once, you know, when he was a baby. But he was just like me. Just like me! He had my ambition, my drive—my everything! And someday I will find him. He left a trail of breadcrumbs—”
His voice trailed off.
“Do you know the tale of Hansel and Gretel, my girl?” Mr. Clementine asked abruptly.
“Yes, of course.”
“They left a trail of breadcrumbs, too, and I mean to follow them all the way to my son.”
“But—” I began.
“Yes? Out with it!”
“The trail of breadcrumbs didn’t work for Hansel and Gretel,” I said. “The birds ate the breadcrumbs up, and they couldn’t find their way back home again.”
Mr. Clementine stared at me for a long moment.
Then he gave a short bark of laughter.
“You have an answer for everything, don’t you, girl? Like I said, you’re a smart one. Just like my Clytie. Someday you’ll find out that I’ve—”
He stopped. “But that won’t be for years now. I’m hale and hearty. Strong as a bull. That day’s not coming for a long time.”
Before I could ask what he meant, Mr. Clementine thumped one of his hands on the book in front of him.
“Thank you for the book. You may go now.”
I stood up, ruffled by the abrupt dismissal, and headed for the door.
Mr. Clementine’s words drew me back, and I turned.
“Don’t think I’ve forgotten,” he said.
“The others are starting to forget. But I haven’t.”
Mr. Clementine leaned forward and spoke the words distinctly.
“I know you’re a witch.”
I turned on my heel and left the room.
Mr. Clementine’s laughter followed me down the stairs.
Thanks very much for reading! A Maryland Witch in Arthur King’s Court is now available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.
Book 1, A Maryland Witch, is also available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.