Message in the Mantel
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 3 of the series, the remodel continues as Abby and Georgia start to make plans for a grand opening celebration. A specialist is brought in to refurbish the century old fireplace mantel and makes a startling discovery. Meanwhile Lonnie is looking to adopt, Colt has a new mystery to solve, and Velma comes face to face with a blast from her past.
Join Abby, Georgia, Rufus, and Ramos, as they continue with the remodel on the old mansion, prepare for a busy summer season, and continue to find a new meaning for their lives in the charming small town of Holiday Bay.
Release date: April 16, 2019
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 158
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Message in the Mantel
The rain pounded the already saturated landscape for the third morning in a row. The old adage about March coming in like a lion and going out like a lamb filtered through my mind as I sloshed across the muddy yard toward the mansion my contractor, Lonnie Parker had been busily renovating for the past four months. The three-story structure was a grand old dame with a rich and colorful history. While much too large for a single woman and her ornery cat, the house would be perfect for the country inn my roommate, Georgia Carter, and I hoped to open this summer.
I groaned as a gust of wind whipped off my floppy hat and sent it flying out toward the angry sea. If not for the impending arrival of Bobby Martin, the man Lonnie had hired to refurbish the old mantel above the fireplace in the living room of the main house, I likely would not have ventured from my cozy cottage, where I’d been snuggled up in a chair in front of the fire with my furry friend Rufus, a huge Maine Coon who had somehow managed to wiggle his way into my heart and my life.
Having lived all my life on the much more temperate Central California coast, I was still getting used to the varied moods of a coastal Maine winter. One minute it was sunny and warm, the next it was snowing and blistery, and just when I’d been getting used to that, the heavens had opened and sent torrents of relentless rain that had me wondering if perhaps we should abandon the remodel and build an ark.
Not that I wasn’t loving my life in Holiday Bay. The town was charming, the scenery breathtaking, and the people filled the hole left in my life by the family I had lost along the way. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I would be happy living in a small town with lampposts wrapped like candy canes, but from the moment I saw the email describing the house and the town in my inbox, I knew that Holiday Bay was exactly where I was meant to be.
“Oh good, I hoped you’d stop by,” Lonnie greeted after I blew in through the kitchen door. “I wanted to introduce you to Bobby.”
“Meeting Bobby is why I’m here,” I confirmed.
Lonnie took my wet raincoat and hung it on a peg near the back door. He then took me by the arm and led me through the kitchen, into the dining area, and toward the living room.
“Bobby Martin, this is the owner of the house, Abby Sullivan.”
“Happy to meet you,” greeted the short man with dark hair and huge green eyes. “You’ve got yourself quite the work of art here.”
I glanced at the intricately carved mantel. “I knew it was something special from the moment I first saw it, which is why I asked Lonnie to find someone special to refurbish it. The design is so elaborate. I’m not sure who carved the piece, but I’m pretty sure the mantel is as old as the house.”
Bobby shook his head. “Oh no. It’s much older than the house. Lonnie said the house was built in 1895.”
“Yes, that’s right,” I answered. “An Englishman named Chamberlain Westminster built it for his one true love, but she died just four months after they were married. It was a tragedy really.”
“Based on the architecture, 1895 seems accurate for the house, but this mantel is probably a hundred and fifty years older than that.”
I frowned. “Really? How do you know?”
Bobby bent down and pointed to a spot on the bottom of the mantel. “See this here, in the design? The little squiggly lines, if looked at closely, appear to be the letters S and G.”
I studied the spot Bobby pointed to. “Yes, I see what you mean. The letters don’t really stand out among the rest of the design, but now that you have pointed them out, I can see them clearly. Do they mean something?”
“It means the mantel was carved by Samuel Garrison. Samuel was an artist who carved items such as this in the Boston area between 1741 and 1782.”
I furrowed my brow. “So, if this Samuel Garrison carved the mantel where was it before it was built into the fireplace in this house?”
Bobby shrugged. “I don’t know. I suppose that it might have been part of another structure that was torn down right around the time that Westminster built this house. It is apparent to me that a lot of attention to detail was taken when Westminster designed the home. It makes sense that he might have purchased the mantel from the previous owner, or even an art dealer. It really is quite unique.”
I glanced at Lonnie. “Is there a way to find out where the mantel came from originally?”
“We can certainly do some research. You know how I love to dig into the history of the grand old homes I bring back to life. I have some books, and there is always the internet. I’m sure Lacy will help out as well.”
“Georgia is really good with research,” I said. “I’ll fill her in when we are done here. Is Lacy going to come by today to work on the mantel in the library?” Lonnie’s wife, Lacy, was refurbishing the much-simpler mantel upstairs, which I didn’t feel required an expert craftsman.
“Not today,” Lonnie responded. “The twins are going to be in a play at the preschool and she volunteered to help out with the rehearsal.”
“Aw. I bet they will be adorable. You do have the cutest daughters. What is the play about?”
“It is a spring production about rebirth. Of course, the actors are all three to five years in age, so it is really just a few songs and arm movements. I’m sure it will be cute, however. You should plan to come. Georgia too. I’ll have Lacy call you with the details. Or you can ask her tomorrow. I think she plans to come by in the morning to work in the library while the older kids are in school.”
“I’d love to come to the play.” I glanced at Bobby. “It was nice meeting you. I look forward to seeing what you can do to restore the mantel to its original brilliance. If you have any questions or run into any obstacles, please let me know. And if you find that the old piece is hiding any other secrets, let me know that as well.”
After Bobby returned to his work, I decided to take a quick peek at the rooms on the second floor, which were just about finished. The inn would have six suites, each with a view of the sea from the king-size bed. Each suite would also feature an attached sitting area with a gas fireplace, a jetted tub, and a giant steam shower. And each unit would have a private deck with its own gas fireplace, as well as a comfortable seating area.
The suites were similar yet unique. I could have decorated all the rooms the same way, but after thinking about it, I decided that each room should have its own color palette. The rooms on the second floor of the house were done in shades of gray and green. The suite on the right, known as the Evergreen Suite, featured medium gray cabinets and dark green granite for the shower and countertops in the bathroom. The granite had gray running through it, which tied everything together nicely. The suite on the left, known as the Shamrock Suite, featured sage-green granite and dark gray cabinets. The walls were painted a shade slightly lighter than the granite, which I felt had a calming effect. The flooring for both suites was the shiny, dark hardwood that ran throughout the house.
The room I was most proud of on the second floor was the library, which was located between the two suites. The walls were painted white, and the bookshelves, as well as the mantel Lacy was working on, would be a honey pine, which contrasted nicely with the darker hardwood floors. Georgia had found a giant area rug for the center of the room, and we had plans to go shopping for the perfect furniture for the space. I could perfectly imagine our guests cozying up in front of the fire with their favorite books on blustery winter nights.
Taking one last look around the room, I let the vastness of the empty space engulf me. Given the massive number of bookshelves, I supposed I needed to get busy buying books. I had some in storage with the rest of my possessions in San Francisco, which would get me started once I shipped everything to Maine.
Once my tour was complete, I headed back out into the rain. The idea of having a mantel in my home that was once in the home of someone living around the time of the American Revolutionary War had certainly gained my interest. I tried to imagine a family from that time period sitting at the communal table sharing a meal in front of a stone fireplace that supported the same mantel that was currently in my home.
“You’ll never guess what I found out about the fireplace mantel in the living room of the mansion,” I said to Georgia, who was brushing mud from the thick black hair of her Newfoundland, Ramos.
“What did you find out?” she asked, as she got up from the floor and began sweeping up the mess her furry friend had made.
I took off my wet jacket and hung it on a peg near the front door. “Bobby, the man Lonnie hired to refurbish the mantel, said it looks to have originally been carved by a man named Samuel Garrison, who lived in the Boston area during the eighteenth century.”
Georgia raised a brow. “Really? That is amazing. Is there a way to find out where the mantel was between the time Garrison carved it and the time it was built into your house?”
“Bobby didn’t know for sure, but he thought we might be able to research it. I guess this Samuel Garrison was pretty famous back in his day. There might be photos of some of the items he created. I don’t know if a mantel would make it into a book, but it would be fun to look.”
“I agree. I’m in.” Georgia dumped her dustpan of dried mud into the trash can. She glanced at Ramos. “There are times such as now when it enters my mind to shave that dog. Not that I would, but I can’t believe how much of the outdoors he has managed to bring indoors since the rain started. The snow was wet, but at least it was clean. All this mud is a nightmare.”
“We’ll need to talk to Lonnie about a lawn, and maybe a patio area and walkways. It won’t do a lot of good for those times when Ramos needs to go for a longer walk, but at least we would be able to move around the property without being covered with black, gooey grime.”
“Landscaping would be nice. For now, I think the next time I take Ramos out, I’ll take him on a leash, or maybe I’ll load him into my truck and take him to the park. He won’t get quite so muddy if he isn’t allowed to roam freely around the property.” Georgia replaced the trash can in the cabinet under the sink. “I know that it seems like spring is never going to arrive, but I’ve been studying the blueprints the landscape architect left for you to look over. The plans are amazing, but there is a lot of hardscape, which it seems to me we should get started on sooner rather than later so that once the threat of a freeze has passed, we can get started on the planting that will need to be done.”
I opened the refrigerator and took out an apple. “I agree.” I took a bite and then glanced out the window. “The plans call for a patio off the back of the house. I wasn’t sure I wanted quite that much concrete at first, but Lonnie pointed out that by the time we added flower boxes with bright annuals, tables with colorful umbrellas, and a water feature, it would actually be a lovely spot from which we can serve meals in the warmer months. If we add a firepit, or maybe even an outdoor fireplace, we should be able to serve meals out there well into fall.”
“I think outdoor dining will be a plus,” Georgia said. She grabbed a book off the shelf and opened it to a photo of a lovely garden with winding pathways, large trees and shrubs, and colorful flowerbeds. “What do you think about something like this for the area surrounding the patio? I know we talked about a gazebo overlooking the sea, and we’ll want a lawn where we can set up chairs for weddings and other events, but I’ve been envisioning something lush with a lot of shade for the walking paths. Of course, we won’t want to obstruct the view of the sea from the first-floor rooms, but I think we can take that into account when deciding where to place everything.”
I took another bite of my apple as I studied the photo. “It really is breathtaking. If we have all those flowerbeds, I think we’ll need to hire a gardener. I bet the upkeep will be extensive.”
Georgia ran a hand over the book. “It would be a large undertaking, but Lonnie seemed to think that we could find landscapers and maintenance personnel to handle the heavy work.”
I flipped to a couple of other pages in the book and then turned back to the one Georgia had marked. “I love it. I have an appointment to go over a final design with the landscape architect in a couple of weeks. We’ll show him this photo and discuss options.” I tossed my apple core in the trash. “That managed to take the edge off, but I’m still hungry. Do you have something in mind for dinner?”
“I was thinking of pot roast. I’ll need to get it started right away, if that meets with your approval.”
“That sounds delicious. I need to write at least a chapter of the new book I started today, so I’ll be in the bedroom. I’m half-expecting a call from Colt, who wanted to set up a time for me to go house hunting with him. I’m going to leave my phone out here so as not to be distracted by it, but if you notice that I have a call from him, you can interrupt me. Otherwise, just let everything go to voice mail.”
“How is Colt’s hunt for the perfect house coming along?” Georgia asked about our friend, Chief of Police Colt Wilder, and the house he was looking for that would accommodate visits from his orphaned niece and nephew.
“Slowly. He’s pretty particular, and he seems to know exactly what he wants, so that narrows down the potential pool of houses by quite a bit. But I don’t blame him for taking his time. The reality is that the house he buys now will probably be the home he lives in for quite some time.”
“Yeah. It is an important decision. I’ll keep an eye out for a call from him; otherwise I won’t bother you. Good luck with your chapter.”
“Thanks; I’ll need it. I have a really awesome concept for this book, but I’m having a hard time getting started. Hopefully, I’ll make some progress today.”
Rufus squeezed in through the bedroom door just as I was closing it. He jumped up onto the bed and curled up in a ball. When Olivia, the mama cat who was living in my closet with her litter of kittens, heard him, she emerged and joined him on the bed. They weren’t hurting anything, so despite the fact that I liked to have zero distractions while I worked, I let them stay. The story I was trying to write was a mystery of sorts, but I wanted something that was more than that. I wanted to write a complicated character with very real problems and personal challenges to overcome. I wanted an element of romance, but I didn’t want the romance to overshadow the story. I had a solid outline for the mystery part of the story, but I was still working on developing the characters who would come together to solve that mystery.
I tried to picture my hero, but the only image to come to mind was Colt, which was one I quickly pushed from my mind. My husband and son had only been gone a year and a half, and there was no way I was ready for lusty thoughts, no matter how innocent they might be. Colt was a nice guy and a good friend. He was responsible and caring, and we seemed to work well together, but he was only a friend, which was a fact I seemed to need to remind myself of more and more often as of late. Deciding my hero should have blond hair and blue eyes, the exact opposite of Colt’s rich brown hair and deep brown eyes, I opened a browser and began to search for male images to use as inspiration for the character I wanted to create.
I didn’t always use photos as inspiration, but there were times when having an image to look at helped me to focus. The manuscript I’d started called for a blond woman with bright blue eyes, so I decided to look for an image to represent my heroine as well, although the only one that came to mind was that of my sister, Annie, a woman I had been close to for most of my life but had been estranged from ever since I’d come to the decision to buy the inn and move to Maine. The fact that Annie was no longer in my life hurt me deeply, but I wasn’t sure how I could rectify the situation; the chatty emails I’d been sending to her since coming to Maine didn’t seem to be working. She had sent me a single short email on Ben’s birthday. I’d hoped that meant she had decided to forgive me, but so far, that was the only email she’d sent.
Making a quick decision, I opened my mail app.
It’s been a rainy March here in Maine, but at least the snow has melted at sea level. The remodel on the house is coming along splendidly. I’m hoping you can make it out here this summer for the grand opening. I want to share my new life with you, and I know you would love spending time on my bluff by the sea.
I found out today that the mantel in the living room of the mansion may have been carved by a famous artist who lived in the eighteenth century. I plan to research the man and his art in an effort to find out more. I’ll let you know what I find, because I know you enjoy both art and history.
I need to get back to work on my new novel. The one I recently completed should publish early next year. I’ll send you a signed copy when I get them.
I love you and miss you, Abby.
After I hit Send, I returned my attention to the chapter that was still waiting to be written. I knew it was pointless to spend a lot of time agonizing over the loss of my relationship with Annie, but at times the hole left by the removal of her presence in my life was more than I could bear.
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