Authors: Christina Freeburn
Tags: #Women Sleuths, #mystery books, #english mysteries, #british cozy mystery, #christian mysteries, #scrapbooking, #cozy mystery, #murder mystery books, #Christian Fiction, #humorous mysteries, #culinary mysteries, #craft mysteries, #female detective, #amateur sleuth books, #murder mystery series, #murder mysteries
Praise for the Faith Hunter Scrap This Mystery Series
FRAMED TO DEATH (#4)
“A snappy, clever mystery that hooked me on page one and didn’t let go until the perfectly crafted and very satisfying end. Faith Hunter is a delightful amateur sleuth and the quirky characters that inhabit the town of Eden are the perfect complement to her overly inquisitive ways. A terrific read!”
— Jenn McKinlay,
New York Times
Bestselling Author of
Copy Cap Murder
“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!”
– Pam Hanson,
Faith, Fireworks, and Fir
EMBELLISHED TO DEATH (#3)
“A fast-paced crafting cozy that will keep you turning pages as you try to figure out which one of the attendees is an identity thief and which one is a murderer.”
— Lois Winston,
Author of the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series
“A little town, a little romance, a little intrigue and a little murder. Join heroine Faith and find out exactly who is doing the embellishing—the kind that doesn’t involve scrapbooking.”
– Leann Sweeney,
Author of the Bestselling Cats in Trouble Mysteries
DESIGNED TO DEATH (#2)
“Battling scrapbook divas, secrets, jealousy, murder, and lots of glitter make
Designed to Death
a charming and heartfelt mystery.”
Author of the Crime of Fashion Mysteries
“Freeburn’s second installment in her scrapbooking mystery series is full of small-town intrigue, twists and turns, and plenty of heart.”
– 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.”
“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 – 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 – as some hobby series can be. And if you are into the hobby, there are hints at the back of the book.”
Rantin’ Ravin’ and Reading
CROPPED TO DEATH (#1)
“A great read that had me reading non-stop from the moment I turned the first page…kept 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...and I liked the cast of characters in this charming whodunit!”
Dru’s Book Musings
“Witty, entertaining and fun with a side of murder…When murder hits Eden, WV, Faith Hunter will stop at nothing to clear the name of her employee who has been accused of murder. Will she find the killer before it is too late? Read this sensational read to find out!”
Shelley’s Book Case
“A cozy mystery that exceeds expectations….Freeburn has crafted a mystery that does not feel clichéd or cookie-cutter….it’s her sense of humor that shows up in the book, helping the story flow, making the characters real and keeping the reader interested.”
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)
FRAMED TO DEATH (#4)
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FRAMED TO DEATH
A Faith Hunter Scrap This Mystery
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Collection
First Edition | April 2016
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 © 2016 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.
Trade Paperback ISBN-13: 978-1-63511-013-5
Digital epub ISBN-13: 978-1-63511-014-2
Kindle ISBN-13: 978-1-63511-015-9
Hardcover Paperback ISBN-13: 978-1-63511-016-6
Printed in the United States of America
In loving memory of Terry W. McNemar,
one of my best friends, surrogate dad, surrogate big brother, and one of my most vocal and loyal fans and supporters.
I will always be grateful for the blessing and privilege of having had him in my life. No one was ever alone when he was around. Wherever he was, Terry not only introduced himself
and offered friendship but always made it a point to say
“Hey, do you know...” connecting people to each other,
setting foundations for a new friendships.
Terry was a builder…and likely still is.
A huge thanks to my wonderful editor Anna Davis for helping me wrangle my characters back under control when they had preferred to do their own thing. I loved how the story was able to evolve with your guidance and support.
To my wonderful beta readers for being eager to see the early draft of the story and making sure I got the football parts right. I couldn’t have done this without Bonner and Teresa, who went above and beyond for me this summer when I was working on the book while my heart was breaking. Thank you.
Also, a special thanks to volunteer firefighter Zachary Freeburn who answered some questions, guided me on where to find needed resources, and was instrumental in giving me the one key detail that I needed to work out a plot point that kept tripping me up.
I closed out the register, securing Scrap This’s receivables in the bank bag. Not bad. Not good either. We were out of the back-to-school slump, when most shoppers found their excess income taken by school supplies, but not yet at the Christmas-is-coming, start-the-crafting time period. I hoped the specialty paper designed with the high school football team’s colors and mascot would bring in extra revenue. The order arrived this morning, and my grandmothers planned on unveiling it tomorrow morning with a special event.
If there was one thing the town of Eden loved, it was football: professional, collegiate, but especially high school.
From August to January, the town revolved around the sport. Whenever there was a home game, Eden practically shut down, with only a few restaurants remaining open along with the largest gas station in town. The pastor even knew better than to have a prayer meeting on football night. It was something I hated and loved about Eden—consistency.
Our town not only revolved around the game but also Coach Rutherford, who put our county on the football map by winning the West Virginia State football championship six times. The scuttlebutt around town was that Coach Rutherford was granted an exception to all the rules, so lack of parking, change for meters, stoplights, and speed limits wouldn’t get in his way of getting to a game, practice, or press conference on time. I guess every town needed a hero. This year, Eden had anticipated making it three championships in a row and bringing the county to seven total, until a horrific car accident left the star quarterback Brandon Sullivan paralyzed from the waist down.
The phone rang. I briefly contemplated ignoring it, but knew I risked a drive-by checking up by either my grandmothers or whoever Cheryl had decided was the new candidate for her granddaughter’s knight-in-shining armor as she yanked it from Steve Davis.
“Hi, Faith, it’s Charlotte. I have a favor to ask.”
Six months ago, dressed like an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Charlotte Hanson breezed into town on a Harley. Her daughter, Hannah, had followed behind driving their red, white, and blue extended-cab truck. Some of the residents of Eden were a little taken aback and stayed clear of Charlotte. Not me. I introduced myself and we became fast friends.
She intrigued half the community, scared the other half, and ramped up all the gossips in town. The only thing that quieted the talk about Charlotte’s past—which included having a baby at seventeen, a short stint in jail, and a relationship with a semi-famous reality television star—was talk about Steve’s family tree. My ex-husband Adam happened to be Steve’s cousin. And a murderer.
“As long as it has nothing to do with a guy,” I said.
“Well, it kind of does.”
I groaned. Ever since I cooled things between Steve and me, my grandmothers and friends had been trying to find a replacement. The relationship hadn’t taken a nosedive because of our shared skeleton in the closet, but because Steve knew my secret and never told me about his connection to my ex-husband Adam the murderer.
My family and friends feared I’d return to my hermit lifestyle. They refused to grasp that I needed to sort out my emotions before I entered a new relationship. Not to mention during the last four months, Steve continually found ways to change the subject when I started the we-need-to-talk conversation, so we weren’t “officially” over. Unfortunately for him, those manipulations firmed up my resolve to end things rather than changing my mind.
“I’m not trying to set you up. I need you to pop into Polished and check that there are no guys visiting with Hannah and her friends. My appointment with the insurance agent is running over, and I don’t want the girls taking advantage of my absence.”
“Not a problem. I was heading home in a few minutes, so I can run next door first and make sure Polished is girls only.”
“And if you don’t mind…” A slight hesitation entered into her voice. “Would you mind hanging around until ten to make sure the girls get out by curfew? I don’t want to get fined.”
“I thought the town ended it when school started back.”
“So did I. The school sent out a message last night reminding us of the curfew and that the only exceptions were for students attending football games or pre-game celebrations. ”
“How does that make any sense? The last pre-game celebration involved a bonfire that almost burned down the embroidery shop.”
“You know Eden better than I do. I forbade Hannah from attending tonight’s rally and agreed to let her have a mani-pedi party at Polished to make up for it. It’s tough making friends in a new school, especially when you’re a senior.”
“I’ll make sure the Cinderellas head home before the clock strikes ten.”
“Thanks. You can use the key I gave your grandmothers to go through the back door.” Charlotte ended the call.
I secured the bank bag in the small safe in the back office, snagging from the desk the Polished key Charlotte entrusted to them after she misplaced hers several times in her opening week. Out of habit, I locked the back door of Scrap This and set the alarm. I wasn’t afraid someone planned on lying in wait for me, but so far our store hadn’t been a recipient of a good-natured prank—AKA vandalism—from Eden High’s football team like some of the others had, and I wanted to keep it that way.
I made my way to Polished, unlocking the back door and easing it back into the frame. I didn’t want to startle the girls and make them think I was an attacker.
“Are you stupid?” a high-pitched feminine voice asked.
The question was followed by a loud clatter.
“Let me go,” Hannah squeaked out.
I ran into the room. A teen with long blonde hair held Hannah against a wall. Small bottles of nail polish skittered across the floor. Another girl screamed, diving toward small organza fabric bags that were on a manicure table.
“Faith, why are you here?” Hannah pushed the girl away, tripping her way toward the other teen.
“Apparently to break up a fight.” I steadied Hannah, stopping her from reaching the girl attempting to hide the silvery bags under her cheerleading t-shirt.
“You’re not needed here.” The blonde who’d attacked Hannah flipped her hair over her shoulder.
“I can decide that for myself.” The antics of the other girl had my attention more than the trying-to-act-like-a-thug behavior of the one not shoveling items down her t-shirt.
One of the bags escaped the groping hands and took up residence in a corner near the back legs of a chair. A light blue ribbon was tied around the top. I knelt down and reached for it.
“We’ll clean up this mess.” The girl dropped onto the floor, inching forward on her belly like a caterpillar. The items under her shirt making a crackling sound as she wiggled under the table. “Whitney didn’t want Hannah telling everyone we were here.”
“Shut up, Kirstin,” Whitney, the blonde, said.
“We’re excluding others. Don’t want to get in trouble for it,” Kirstin said, continuing to slither toward the bag from the opposite side. She whacked her forehead on the edge of the manicurist chair and didn’t slow down one bit. “I’ll get the potpourri.”
Right. I hadn’t been out of high school so long that I forgot what it was like to be a teen. A lot of acrobatics, physical and verbal, were being conducted over some bags of potpourri. I jumped over Kirstin and quickly brought my foot down on the bag. I had a strong suspicion I was seeing the elusive synthetic marijuana disguised as fragrance satchels. The designer drug hit our community three months ago, and no adults or members of law enforcement had seen it in anyone’s possession, though all had heard of it and witnessed some of the aftereffects of its use. Like Brandon Sullivan’s accident.
I picked up the unmarked fabric bag. The little pouch of potpourri held a mixture of crumbled red, green, and brown dried leaves. It matched the description I’d read in the paper of the illegal herbal substance, named Janie by the police department. My stomach plummeted. “Where did you get this?”
“I’ll say you gave it to us if you don’t give it back,” Whitney said.
A heavy pounding shook the front door.
Kirstin craned her neck, blanching to the color of vellum. “Run!”
Conroy Jasper, wearing civilian clothes rather than a police uniform, stood at the front door of Polished. He jabbed at the doorknob. “Open up, Faith.”
The girls raced for the back of the store.
I grabbed the arm of the closest teen. Whitney. “Not so fast.”
She whirled, pointing her smartphone at me, and yanked something out of her jacket pocket. A flash went off in my face, then a liquid squirted at me. Pepper spray.
Screaming, I hunched over, scrubbing at my eyes as tears coursed down my face. The bag containing the potpourri dropped to the floor. Someone leaned down; I shoved at the figure. I couldn’t let the girls have the drug.
“Leave it,” Whitney said.
“Open up or I’ll break down this door,” Jasper’s concerned voice reached me.
The girls ran past me. The culprits were making a break for the back exit. I headed after them, only managing to run into two tables and trip over the legs of a rolling chair. Everything was a big blur through the tears streaming down my face.
“Stop them. The back door.”
Dropping to my knees, I scrambled my hands around on the floor, searching for the illegal substance. My hands and arms itched to scrub at my eyes. I stopped myself from catering to the instinct, knowing that would make it worse. Stopping my hunt, I leaned back, taking in a deep breath. The best choice was waiting for Jasper as I might damage the evidence. Hopefully this would put the police on the path of shutting the drug dealer down.
“What happened?” Jasper’s voice carried from the rear of the store.
I gestured at the herbs littered on the floor. “The teens had Janie. I’m kind of hoping it was just buying for personal use, not selling.”
“I know about that. I mean, what’s wrong with you?” Jasper wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “I heard you scream.”
“Pepper sprayed.” Either the teens got away, or he thought it more prudent to check on me.
“Let’s get you to the sink.” His other arm went under my knees.
I swatted at Jasper. “I can walk. I don’t need help.”
With the world still blurry, my independence was short-lived as I smacked into the edge of the counter.
Jasper wrapped his arms around my waist and hoisted me up. Now, instead of being carried across-the-threshold style, Jasper hauled me toward the back like a tantrum-throwing toddler or a humongous bag of fertilizer.
I curled my legs up to make sure we didn’t become tangled and end up on the floor in a heap.
He deposited me near the sink in the manicure section, turning on the faucet and splashing handfuls of cold water onto my face. “What have you gotten yourself into this time?”
Coughing, I moved back. “You’re going to drown me. I got it from here.”
“You need to get it out of your eyes as quick as you can,” Jasper said.
“Trust me, I want it out more than you do.” I cupped my hands under the water, working on getting out the chemicals.
“Do you know who sprayed you?” Jasper asked.
“I don’t know yet, but I will after I call Charlotte. She asked me to check up on Hannah and her friends.” I snagged the cordless phone.
“I think you should hold off on calling anyone, especially Charlotte Hanson.”
My finger paused over the seven. Bits of dried leaves and flowers coated the floor of Polished, and the room held a slight smell of cloves.
Jasper removed his cell from the clip on his belt, the movement revealing his holster. He showed me a picture on Hannah’s Instagram account. “Clive Murphy called and reported that a group of teens high on something accidentally set Lake Breckinridge’s flower shop on fire. The fire department and some squad cars are heading there. The parents in Eden want a showdown with whoever is selling this designer drug to their kids. Right now, the only tangible link to where it’s coming from is a picture Hannah posted.”
The photo showed the bag of potpourri on the manicure station. Poor Charlotte. She was having enough trouble finding acceptance in the community. This wouldn’t help her.
“And one just popped up with you holding a bag of potpourri.”
Whitney wasn’t trying to blind me with her camera. She was implicating me, and Hannah helped her. Why would Hannah do that to me? “I didn’t sell the drug to the girls.”
Jasper collected the evidence. “I know that. We’ve been monitoring social media sites for the last few months, knowing sooner or later someone would get careless and post something. This is the most substantial lead we’ve gotten.”
“The girls had a couple of bags of it.”
Jasper tucked the re-bagged potpourri under his arm. Opening an app on his phone, he started taking notes. “I need the names.”
“Whitney, Kirstin, and Hannah. Hannah didn’t bring it into the store either,” I added. “That explains why Whitney was so mad. She knows Hannah took a picture.”
A disconcerting thought trickled into my mind. I shoved at it, but it settled into my brain, making itself quite comfortable. Had Charlotte suspected one of the girls was bringing the drugs? Was that the real reason, not visiting teenage boys, she wanted me to come over?
“Were you here the whole time?” Jasper swiped his index finger across the phone screen. He flipped it toward me. “This picture shows a bag of Janie on one of the small tables, but no one is in the picture. I don’t know which teen brought it in.”
“Manicurist station,” I said.
Jasper heaved out a sigh. “Fine, manicurist station, though now isn’t the time to be worried about those particulars.”
“I think the particulars concerning this are important.”
“Whether it’s a called a small table or a manicurist station, no. The second picture of you handing a bag of Janie to a teen is what should concern you.”
“I didn’t hand anything to anyone.”
“That’s not what this shows.” Jasper showed me another photo.
It had been taken right before I was pepper sprayed. In it, I was holding the bag of Janie and a hand was reaching for it. Someone could interpret the picture to mean I was giving it to someone. I doubted Whitney would admit she was trying to take the confiscated drug away from me.
“I took it from the girls, and Whitney was trying to get it back.”
“I know that, you know that, but what will other people believe?” Jasper said. “I’ll need you to come to the station first thing in the morning to make a statement.”