Answers in the Attic
A heartwarming cozy mystery series about losing everything, taking a chance, and starting again.
After suffering a personal tragedy Abby Sullivan buys a huge old seaside mansion she has never even seen, packs up her life in San Francisco, and moves to Holiday Bay Maine, where she is adopted, quite against her will, by a huge Maine Coon Cat named Rufus, a drifter with her own tragic past named Georgia, and a giant dog with an inferiority complex named Ramos. What Abby thought she needed was alone time to heal. What she ended up with was, an inn she never knew she wanted, a cat she couldn't seem to convince to leave, and a new family she'd never be able to live without.
In book 4 in the series, the remodel is almost complete and Abby and Georgia are planning a huge grand opening. The only thing left for Abby to do before Lonnie can wrap things up is to go through the items left in the attic by prior residents. Abby is just about to get started when a woman named Trinity Roswell shows up claiming to be the great, great, great, niece of Abagail Chesterton, the wife of the man who built the house, Chamberlain Westminster. Trinity, a woman in her thirties, is doing a family history and has questions about Abagail. Abby only knows what she has been told by others but decides to help the woman locate the information she is seeking. They visit an old cemetery and come away with more questions than answers.
While Abby and Trinity seek out the last of the secrets the house once held, Colt is busy with his own cold case murder, Tanner has a new litter of puppies, Nikki is dating a man Georgia doesn't like and doesn't trust, and Annie notifies Abby about a death in the family.
Release date: June 18, 2019
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 148
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Answers in the Attic
I looked out my window and smiled as the bountiful days of spring pushed out the last breath of winter, bringing rebirth and renewal to the rocky seashore and dense forest. After months of short days, long nights, and frigid temperatures, the sun shone brightly, causing flowers to bloom, birds to sing, and wildlife to venture from their winter homes. In the forest, rivers spilled over their banks as the annual runoff found its way to the sea.
As I set about tidying my room, I decided that today was the day I was absolutely going to start cleaning out the attic in the mansion I’d been refurbishing to operate as a country inn. My contractor, Lonnie Parker, had been bugging my roommate, Georgia Carter, and me to get it done so that he could start ripping out walls and adding plumbing to create the last of the six suites we planned to rent to our guests. The suites on the three main floors of the mansion were just about completed and ready to be furnished. Lonnie thought the attic, once we got it cleaned out, would take six to eight weeks to complete, depending on the plumbing and electrical situation, which he couldn’t confirm until he was able to open up the walls. At this point, we were looking for a completion date for the inn in mid-June. That actually worked out, because we’d all but decided to hold a grand opening celebration in July. We didn’t have overnight guests booked until August, but we wanted to do a couple of outdoor events first, to ease into the whole 24-7 scenario.
I pulled up the top quilt on my four-poster bed after straightening the lower layers and was smoothing away the wrinkles when my Maine Coon cat, Rufus, attacked the pillows, messing up the quilt in the process. “Get down, you silly cat. I’ll never get this done with your help.”
“Yes, I know that you want to play, and normally, I’d be happy to play with you, but I have a very busy day planned. Let’s finish making this bed and then go have some breakfast.” I picked up the orange cat and then took a deep breath. “I smell coffee as well as something baking in the oven. Maybe Georgia made muffins today.”
I’d already dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, so I grabbed a pair of flip-flops and slipped them on my feet. While my main goal today was to get started on the attic, I also had a crew coming by this afternoon to put the finishing touches on the float for this weekend’s Easter parade. In addition to my need to tackle the attic and finish the float, I was itching to get outside in the garden, which my landscaper and I were planting if the opportunity presented itself. The landscape architect had drawn up a lush and colorful setting that would take years to grow in completely, but I figured it should be downright gorgeous right off the bat once the flower beds and planter boxes were added.
“Abby.” Georgia knocked on my bedroom door just as I was tossing my overnight clothes into my laundry hamper.
“Come on in,” I called out as I set Rufus on the floor.
Georgia opened the door and stepped inside. “There is a woman at the door asking to see you. She said that she went to the main house first, but Lonnie sent her over here.”
I frowned as I tried to imagine who could be looking for me so early in the morning. I had workmen coming and going all the time, many of whom had a multitude of questions, so I figured maybe it was one of the subcontractors who had come to the door. “Okay. I’ll be right out.”
“I’ll go ahead and ask her to have a seat while she waits,” Georgia offered.
When I entered the living area of the two-bedroom cottage I shared with Georgia, Rufus, and Georgia’s Newfoundland, Ramos, I found Georgia speaking to a petite woman with long red hair that fell almost to her waist. I smiled in greeting as I crossed the room. “I’m Abby Sullivan.”
The woman stood and offered her hand. “My name is Trish Roswell.” She bent down to scratch Rufus under the chin before she continued. “I’m here on a fact-finding mission of a sort. I recently had my ancestry charted as the first step in writing a family memoir and it seems that my great-great-great-aunt was Abagail Chesterton, the wife of Chamberlain Westminster, the man who built your house in 1895. I was hoping that you might know more about Abagail and would be willing to share it. I find I am very interested in the woman who won the heart of such a fascinating man.”
Okay, I wasn’t expecting that. I wasn’t certain what I was expecting, but it wasn’t someone working on a family tree. “Really?” My tone mimicked my surprise. “Abagail had a niece? I guess I should have assumed that she had family, perhaps even siblings. I know that she never had children, but I guess I never stopped to look at the situation beyond that.”
Trish nodded. “My great-great-grandmother was Celeste Chesterton, Abagail’s sister. Their father, William Chesterton, married Isabelle Portman in 1864. They had three daughters, Elizabeth, Abagail, and Celeste, and lived in a small coastal settlement just west of modern-day Holiday Bay. Elizabeth died when she was just twenty-four. As far as I can tell, she never married or had children, although my investigation into the Chesterton family is sketchy at best. I know that Abagail married Chamberlain Westminster when she was twenty-two. They likewise never had children. Celeste married a man named Reginald Gram in 1902. They had two sons and a daughter. The daughter, Maria, was my great-grandmother.”
“And do you have children?” I wondered.
The woman nodded. “I married a wonderful man ten years ago and we have two daughters. The girls are spending some time with their grandparents over spring break, so I decided to use the time to try to fill in some blanks in my family history.”
“That is so awesome.” Georgia grinned. “It sounds like you have done quite a bit of work already.”
“I have.” The woman’s bright blue eyes shone with enthusiasm. “I’ve been looking up distant cousins on both sides of my family and visiting the gravesites and birthplaces of those ancestors whose whereabouts I have been able to track down. When I started this journey, I tried listing everyone, including cousins and their spouses and offspring, and then I realized how many people you can collect in just a couple of generations. After the first two generations, I decided to concentrate on direct descendants, such as grandparents and their parents and siblings. I have run across a few who I found particularly interesting, including Abagail. I know that she died while living in the house on this property, although I don’t know for certain where she was buried. I hoped you might know.”
“Actually, I don’t, but there might be folks in town who do. My contractor, Lonnie Parker, might even be aware of the details of Abagail’s final burial place. We can go ask him. He knows a lot about the history of the house and its past residents.”
“That would be great. If Abagail is buried close by, I’d like to pay my respects and maybe see if I can pick up any additional information for my family memoir.”
“There may also be items in the attic of the main house that could answer some of your questions. Georgia and I planned to start cleaning it out today. I’d be happy to take down your contact information and call or email if we find anything we think you might be interested in.”
Trish smiled. “I’d like that very much. Do you think there is anything in the attic that could have belonged to Abagail?”
I shrugged. “I have no idea. The house had six owners before me. As you already know, Chamberlain Westminster had the home built in 1895. After Abagail died, he returned to England and the house sat empty until he passed away and his brother, Simon, inherited the estate and sold it to the Joneses in 1932. To be honest, I don’t know what they might have done with any personal possessions Chamberlain might have left behind. They may have sold whatever they didn’t want, but I suppose it is possible they stored more personal items in the attic.”
“I hope that is true,” Trish said.
“When I moved in, the place was mostly cleared out, except for a few random pieces of furniture, although the attic was packed from top to bottom and front to back with boxes and furniture. Going through everything is going to be a big job, that is for certain. Georgia and I have been meaning to get to it for the past month, but spring in Holiday Bay is a busy time, with the return of tourists and local celebrations to ring in Easter, so we’ve managed to push back the task several times.” I looked at Georgia. “Today, however, is the day. Right?”
“Right,” Georgia answered.
“Like I said, I’m happy to call you if we find anything I think you might be interested in,” I continued.
“I would appreciate that very much. I am in town until tomorrow, and then I’m heading to Lewiston, where a cousin of my grandfather on my father’s side lives. I’ll be there for several days, but if you find anything that belonged to Abagail, I’d be happy to come back here when I am done there to take a look.”
“That sounds like a good plan,” I responded. “In the meantime, let’s go talk to Lonnie. There is a good chance he knows where Abagail is buried.”
When we arrived at the main house, Lonnie was on the phone with the electrician, so I offered to give Trish a tour. I had to admit I was very proud of the way things were coming together. Everything looked so fresh and new, and the floors, as well as the countertops and new windows, glistened. The addition of the wall of windows to the back of the house where it overlooked the sea had made such a huge difference in the overall feel of the place.
“So, you have named every suite and have given each one a different color palette?” Trish commented as we walked through the five suites that were finished or mostly so.
I nodded. “Pretty much. The same dark hardwood flooring runs throughout the house. My thought was that the flooring would pull everything together in a seamless manner, despite the color variations.”
“I think it does. I really like it.”
“While the suites are decorated differently, they are all laid out in a similar manner. Each one has a sleeping area with a king-size bed, a bathroom with a jetted tub, and a sitting area with a fireplace and a private balcony or patio. And they all have an exceptional view of the sea.”
“I noticed that the place had the feel of the sea from the moment I walked in through the back door into that fabulous kitchen,” Trish said. “And I love that each suite has a name, but with a name like The Inn at Holiday Bay, I sort of thought you would give holiday names to the suites.”
“Georgia and I talked about having a Halloween Suite, a Christmas Suite, an Easter Suite, and so on, but then we realized that there might not be a huge demand for guests wanting to stay in a Christmas-themed suite in July. Besides, the town of Holiday Bay seems to cover the year-round, holiday theme pretty well. We do plan to hold seasonal and holiday events, but the theme of the suites has more to do with the color scheme of the forest and sea.”
“Well, I think what you have done is truly spectacular.”
By the time I had given Trish the grand tour, Lonnie had finished his conversation. I asked him if he knew where Abagail was buried and, as I suspected, he did. He also knew quite a bit about the Chesterton family, including that when Abagail passed away, she was laid to rest in a family cemetery that was located on land owned by her family. It was still there, although no one had been buried in the cemetery for quite some time. It was only about twenty miles west of Holiday Bay, so when Trish said she was going to make the trip, Georgia and I decided to go along, even if that meant putting off the attic for one more day.
I offered to drive because I pretty much knew where we were going and Trish had never been in the area before. Georgia sat in the back so that Trish could enjoy an unobstructed view.
“The Maine coastline is stunning,” Trish said as we headed west. “I wish now that I had more time to spend exploring, but I have a pretty tight schedule that will need to be adhered to if I want to have the opportunity to speak to everyone on my list.”
“You could always come back for a longer visit at another time,” Georgia suggested. “The summers along the coast are magnificent, and of course, the fall color when the trees turn is something that everyone should experience at least once in their lives.”
“I’d like to come back one day. Maybe I will bring my family. My husband has a demanding job and it is hard for him to get time off, but he usually takes a week off in the fall and another week at Christmas.”
“The inn will be open beginning in August. If you can figure out dates, call us. The suites have foldout sofas, so if you don’t mind having your daughters sleep in the seating area, the whole family can share one suite.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. I’d really love to come at Christmas. I bet the town is magical when you add snow to the rocky bluffs overlooking the sea.”
Magical was exactly the way I’d describe Holiday Bay at Christmas. As much as I was happy to see the end of the snow from last winter, I was sure I’d welcome it once the holidays rolled around.
As soon as we arrived at the old homestead owned by the Chesterton family, we got out of the car and looked around. The house, a large, two-story structure, was deserted and looked as if it had been for some time. The private graveyard was bordered with a short fence measuring about three feet in height. It was mostly overgrown with weeds, but most of the headstones seemed to be intact, which would help us to identify the individuals buried there.
Trish was thrilled to find William, Isabelle, Elizabeth, Abagail, and Celeste, all buried close together. In addition to Abagail’s immediate family, multiple generations of Chestertons and people who must be Chesterton relations were buried in the cemetery as well.
“I love the idea of families spending eternity together,” Georgia said.
“It is pretty sobering,” Trish agreed. “I’d have to bring my notes with me to be sure everyone is buried here, but based on the number of tombstones, it looks like a good percentage of the Chesterton clan ended up here.”
“I wonder who this grave belongs to,” I said, pointing to a grave marker next to the one identified as having belonged to Elizabeth Chesterton. “It simply says ‘Emily.’ There is no last name.”
Trish frowned. “I’m not sure. I don’t remember an Emily on my family tree, but I’ll look when I have my notes.”
“Maybe there was a fourth daughter in the family,” I suggested.
Trish shook her head slowly. “No. I don’t think there were four daughters.”
“Perhaps she was a friend of the family,” Georgia said. “Maybe there is a journal or old letters or something in the attic that will explain who Emily was. Are there other nonfamily members buried in the cemetery?”
I looked around. “With the exception of Emily, almost all of the grave markers have both a first and last name on them. The last name of most of the individuals buried here is Chesterton, but there are a few with the last name of Gram and Birmingham.”
“Celeste married Reginald Gram,” Trish said. “They had two sons and a daughter. The sons and their families would be Grams. The daughter, my great-grandmother, Maria, married Clifford Birmingham.”
“It looks like the last person to be buried here was Annalisa Birmingham. She was only twelve when she died in 1942,” Georgia said.
“She was the youngest daughter of Cliff and Maria, who had five children. Annalisa fell off a horse and broke her back. She died several weeks later,” Trish informed us.
“That is so sad,” I said, feeling the tug in my heart that only a mother who had lost a child could really understand.
“I wonder why no one else was buried in the little cemetery after that,” Georgia said.
“I’m not sure,” Trish said, looking around. “Until Lonnie told us of its existence, I had no idea this was even here. Maria is buried in Stowe, Vermont. I know she lived in Vermont when she died, so perhaps my great-grandparents moved after the death of their youngest child. Cliff was originally from Vermont.”
“Sometimes all you can do when you lose someone you love and your life falls apart is move away and try for a fresh start,” I said.
“Yeah,” Georgia agreed. “That makes sense. We can research the land and find out if it was sold at around that time.” Georgia blushed. “Not that I am trying to take over your project. I tend to get wrapped up in this sort of mystery.”
“No, it’s fine,” Trish assured us. “I’m thrilled to have found someone who is interested in the project. My sisters have asked me to stop bringing it up all the time, and my mom is only mildly interested, to the point where she will listen to my stories but never offers to participate. My husband is a great guy and supports me, but I can tell that he couldn’t care less about knowing where Abagail Westminster was buried.”
“Not everyone is interested in digging into the past,” Georgia admitted. “But I find it very interesting and would be happy to help with the research, especially the parts that involve Chamberlain Westminster and Abagail Chesterton.”
“You should take her up on her offer to help,” I said. “Georgia is a master on the computer.”
“I will take you up on it,” Trish told Georgia. “And thank you.”
“I noticed that the gravesites are laid out so that the most recent are in the front, which I suppose must mean the earliest Chesterton ancestors are buried toward the back,” I commented.
“Let’s take a walk there and look around,” Trish said. “I’d love to walk through the cemetery slowly and write down every name and the year they were born and died. It will not only help me fill some of the holes I have in my family tree, but it would be interesting to find out what I can about everyone as well.” Trish looked around.
“While Celeste is buried in the cemetery, as are her two sisters and her parents, I notice that only one of her children, Henry Gram, seems to have been buried here. I wonder what became of Celeste’s youngest son, George.”
“Perhaps George moved away and was buried elsewhere,” I said.
“Perhaps,” Trish agreed.
“Oh look,” Georgia said from a kneeling position at the back of the graveyard. “Here is Robert Chesterton. He was born in 1774 and died in 1840. The oldest grave seems to belong to Baby Boy Chesterton, born in 1803. He was survived by his parents, Robert and Louise.” Georgia looked up. “I suppose that Robert might have built this little cemetery for his baby when he passed away before he could have been named. Maybe once he was buried here, the other members of the family began to be buried here as well. Maybe to keep Baby Boy Chesterton company for all eternity.”
“Wow, that is sort of poetic,” Trish said. “The baby had no name, yet he left a legacy if this entire graveyard, which later had dozens of grave markers, began with his death.”
This outing was most definitely bringing up issues for me. As we looked around, we found gravestones for quite a few children. I supposed that there was a time when a lot of children died at a young age. I wondered if it was as hard to lose a child back then as it was now, or if married couples simply went into it knowing that they would lose a few along the way.
We ended up spending several hours in the little cemetery. Trish noted the names of several family members she wanted to research further, including the Emily who had no last name. I wondered if perhaps she wasn’t a valued servant. Maybe a nursemaid who died and was so much a part of the family that she’d earned a place in the family cemetery.
When we returned to Holiday Bay, we stopped off at Velma’s Diner for lunch. Trish wanted to buy lunch for Georgia and me as a thank-you for helping her out, and I thought she’d enjoy getting to know one of the pillars of modern-day Holiday Bay.
The restaurant was packed with folks who were out and about, enjoying the warm spring weather. Georgia spotted a booth in the back and quickly headed in that direction. I grabbed a couple of menus as we passed the hostess station. Velma and her waitress were running a mile a minute, so I figured I’d save them the hassle of bringing the menus to us. Georgia and I already knew what we wanted, but I was sure that Trish would want to take a peek at the items Velma offered.
“I hoped to introduce you to Velma, but I didn’t realize it would be this busy,” I said to Trish. “I doubt she’ll even make it out of the kitchen.”
“I’m sure she must be pretty busy,” Trish agreed. She glanced at the menu. “What’s good?”
“Everything is good,” I answered.
“Velma is known for her home-style country cooking,” Georgia said. “You won’t find anything fancy on the menu, but what she offers is of good quality and prepared with love.”
“I guess I’ll try the beef-dip sandwich,” Trish said. “I haven’t had one in ages.”
Georgia went up to the counter, wrote down the order for our table, and slipped it to Velma. Then she grabbed three glasses, filled them with water, and brought them to us. The sole waitress on shift that day waved at Georgia to acknowledge that she’d noticed that she had taken care of things herself. That was one of the things I loved about Holiday Bay: Folks pitched in when necessary, and no one seemed to mind.
“So, how many people are you trying to meet during this family roots trip of yours?” I asked after we’d all settled in to wait for our food.
“I have seven on my list. I live in Philadelphia, but both my mother’s family, as well as my father’s, are from New England. I know most of the aunts, uncles, and cousins who are still alive, of course. This trip is to find additional information on the ones who came before. I have my lineage traced back to Nicolas Chesterton on my mother’s side. As far as I can tell, he came to the colonies in the mid-1600s. He lived in Jamestown and had seven sons. In fact, one of the most interesting things I found was that the Chesterton line consisted mostly of sons until William Chesterton, who had three daughters.”
“William Chesterton had brothers whose offspring carried on the Chesterton name?” Georgia asked.
Trish nodded. “He had two brothers.”
She went on to name the brothers and their offspring. While I found it fascinating, Trish was throwing way too many names around for me to make sense of them, so I let my attention wander. Georgia seemed better able to keep up with all the names, but I felt like I would need a list to keep track. One of the bits of information Trish had stored in her memory that I did find fascinating was that one of the uncles many times removed had been named John. John had eleven sons, all of whom were named John too. I wondered how that might work, but Trish informed me that all the sons had different middle names, so she assumed that the sons went by those.
After we finished lunch, we headed back to the mansion so Trish could pick up her car. She had plans to visit both the newspaper and the museum, and Georgia and I had a whole hive of worker bees coming by to help put the finishing touches on the float for the Easter parade, so we didn’t tag along. Lonnie had built a masterpiece with the help of his artistic wife, Lacy, and our neighbors, Tanner Peyton and his sister, Nikki. He’d been working for weeks on a replica of the inn, all fixed up and ready to receive guests. In addition to those helpers, we were expecting Chief of Police Colt Wilder, Velma, when she was finished at the diner for the day, and Velma’s friend, Charlee Weaver.
I suggested to Georgia that she grill some burgers and buy a couple of bags of chips to serve to everyone when they arrived. Of course, once Georgia got hold of the idea, burgers on the grill translated into ribs and chicken, baked Texan beans, potato, green, and fruit salads, and fresh, flaky grilled bread. I’m not sure how Georgia got all that food prepared so quickly, but by the time Colt rolled onto the drive on his motorcycle, the meat was on the grill and everything else was ready to eat.
“I’m not sure I would have gone with quite so much food,” Colt said later that afternoon after everyone had arrived. “I’m afraid we’ll all end up in a food coma and no one will have the energy to work on the float.”
“I agree, but you know Georgia; when I suggested hamburgers and potato chips, she almost had a heart attack. I think we’ll be fine, though. There isn’t a lot left to do on the float. We finished the structure as well as the basic landscaping last weekend. We wanted to add an Easter feel to the inn and garden, so we plan to build a large Easter Bunny who will sit on a chair in the gazebo, and then we’ll add Easter eggs to the lawn. I think Lacy and Georgia have everything made, so it just needs to be assembled.”
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