Mother of the Bride (Molly West Mysteries)

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9780312186319: Mother of the Bride (Molly West Mysteries)
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Rural activist Molly West must balance helping her daughter plan a costumed Civil War reenactment wedding with tracking a killer, after one of the bridesmaids discovers a skeleton in her basement.

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About the Author:

Patricia T. Westfall is the author of Mother of the Bride, Fowl Play and Real Farm.

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Mother of the Bride
Part OneSomething Old1. PhoneOne ring; two rings; five."Molly?""Mmph?""Molly, wake up. Get the phone.""Mmph, you get it," she grumbled to her husband. Ken tried to reach over and through the mounds of goose-down comforters and quilts that were tangled over them both. The jumble of covers was ordinary February prudence made necessary by their living on a back-country road. Propane trucks took days to make deliveries if the roads were clear and did not deliver at all if roads were iced. Molly and Ken dared not run low on fuel in February, so they slept with the thermostat low and the blankets high. This made for some desperate nightly struggles. Both had mastered the art of the "delta clutch," or the ability to grab on to blankets even when in the deepest form of sleep--delta sleep--if the other turned over and threatened to take the covers along. Even so, their efforts to keep mutually covered created a fractured bedscape every morning that rivaled the effects of colliding tectonic plates.Ken could almost touch the phone on her bedside dresser but not quite. "Can't. You get it. You're closer."Eight rings. Ten rings."All right. All right." She grabbed it. "The number you have reached is not in service, especially at"--she squinted at the glowing bedside clockface--"three A.M.? This had better be damned important.""Hi, Molly, good morning to you, too.""John?"John Matins, as in Sheriff John Matins, as in next-doorneighbor Sheriff John Matins and his wife, Betty, although it was next door in a country sense, since their two houses were half a mile apart."Yes, the hardworking neighborhood sheriff, none other. Sorry to call so early, but I need Amanda's phone number." Amanda was Ken and Molly's twenty-five-year-old daughter, the elder of their two children."At three in the morning?""I'm sorry, yes. I need her help.""Why? What's happened?" Molly was wide awake now. No matter how old children get, those mother-in-action hormones will surge into the bloodstream at the slightest threat to one."Luke Siever's escaped from prison. I've got a deputy guarding Bonnie's house right now, but I expect she's in terrible danger until he's caught again. I want her out of the Tricounty. Thought she could stay with Amanda in Cleveland, those two being such good friends'n all. Want Bonnie to start up driving now.""But Amanda's coming home today. We're going to plan her wedding. You want to wait until she gets here or call her now anyway?""Wedding? Those two finally set a date? And you didn't tell us?""Oh. Been busy. Slipped my mind. Slipped entirely. Consider yourself told."She heard him turn away from the phone. "Betty, wake up; Amanda's getting married."Now Betty took the phone, her voice at once sleepy and alert. "Bently and Amanda finally set a date? When?""April.""So fast? Oh my dear Lord. Two months from now, that's going to be tricky, us getting things ready in two months. Well, we can do it, you and me. We'll have such fun, a wedding to plan. I love weddings. My Sherry's not yet give me one, so I'll make do with Amanda's. Who's doing the gown?"She's joking, Molly half thought, half prayed. Please let her be babbling because she's sleepy. Betty is going to help and comfort me, not drive me crazy, right? I can't do this wedding thing. Everybody meddling, everybody bossing me.In this rural southern part of Ohio, neighbors were more than nearby dwellers. They were like family. And like family they assumed Molly's business was theirs. Given the Appalachian heritage of the region, it wasn't particularly strange that both John and Betty would temporarily forget about some dangerous felon loose in the thick southern forests when there was something as exciting as a wedding to discuss. Hill folk had their priorities on straight."Uh, Betty, it is three in the morning," Molly said."When will she get here?" John had taken the phone back."Midafternoon. She said she'd start driving early.""Maybe it'll be safe to wait about sending Bonnie away until she gets here. Even if Luke hitches rides, it'll take him some hours to get down here from Lima to us.""Don't you think they'll recapture him soon? They'll have searchers out, won't they?""Yes, but Luke, I say he's part ghost. He can disappear in a woods if he wants. Have Amanda call me the minute she gets here.""I will."Ken had dropped back to sleep and was snoring lightly, but there was no more sleep for Molly. She lay awake thinking about that terrible day almost two years ago when Luke had beaten and shot his wife, Bonnie, then left her for dead in their trailer. Somehow, Bonnie had crawled to a phone and called the sheriff. Matins, in turn, had called in the helicopter that saved her life, first by stabilizing her at the scene and then by lifting her to a trauma center in Columbus.When Amanda heard about the shooting she had come down from Cleveland to Columbus to keep vigil. The two women had been girlhood "best" friends. Molly had joined Amanda several times outside the intensive care unit to keep her company. Florence Wheeler, Bonnie's mother, and her aunt, Zenith Wheeler, also would come, and occasionally the four women were present at the same time, sitting on the uncomfortable vinyl chairs outside the hospital's trauma ward, mostly in silence, as Bonnie struggled to survive. The sight of Bonnie's pale form bristling with tubes still haunted Molly.Bonnie had been the first to befriend then ten-year-old Amanda when the family had moved down from Chicago for Ken's new job as a professor at the college. Most of the kids in school teased Amanda at first. She dressed funny and talked extremely funny. Appalachian kids thought her Chicago "dese" and "dose" were hilarious. Bonnie was also an outcast because she was from a troubled family. Every region has a few such families, and the Wheelers were the Tricounty version. As a newcomer, Molly didn't know to warn Amanda away from the Wheelers. Amanda's social skills soon meant Bonnie had new friends, too, whether their mothers approved or not. But Bonnie and Amanda were always best friends.Amanda had loved playing at Bonnie's house because of its secret places. There were crawl spaces under the stairs and closets behind the closets. There were secret panels in the attic andhidden hallways within the walls. The house, a decaying antebellum structure of Italianate style, sat on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River. It had been built by Clement Barton, a river pirate who became wealthy in the surge of river commerce that followed the building of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad through present-day West Virginia in the 1830s and 1840s. At one time, Riverport, the town beneath the Mansion's bluff, rivaled Cincinnati in cachet and wealth. Now it was a mere spot on the map, gone except for weed-infested foundations and a few brick chimneys standing like tombstones amid the brush.In the heady years before the Civil War, when water transport was opening the West, the Bartons, with help from an occasional bribe and a murder or two, were one of the most powerful families in southern Ohio. The next generation of Bartons had been abolitionists, and the Mansion became renowned as a station on the Underground Railroad. Clement Barton, Jr., and his wife Esmerelda funneled hundreds of escapees northward toward ports on Lake Erie where they could get passage to Canada. It was risky work because, under the Fugitive Slave Act, anyone caught harboring slaves or assisting runaways would forfeit their property. Every bounty hunter knew the Barton Mansion housed runaways, but so clever was the series of caves and tunnels behind and under the house and so well designed was the system of bells to warn fugitives of danger that none was recaptured from the Barton house despite almost nightly raids. The same system of bells and caves greatly enriched a later Barton during Prohibition.Florence Barton Wheeler, Bonnie's mother, had inherited the house when her own mother died and she moved into it with David, her husband, when Bonnie was two. Six years ago and a year after Bonnie's own marriage, David had left Florence for parts unknown. No one had seen or heard from him since. Florence should have been relieved since David was "a hitter," the term locals used to describe wife beaters. Florence, however,was deeply hurt by the abandonment. She told anyone and everyone she wanted him to come home and get down on his knees begging for her forgiveness. That's all she wanted, she'd say, for her husband to beg.David Wheeler had also routinely beaten Bonnie, a fact Amanda knew but didn't tell her mother until she was grown. Bonnie often went to school dirty or bruised from a beating in those days. The two girls learned to use the Mansion's hiding places whenever David was home.As a teenager, Amanda became fascinated with the notorious house and its family. She loved to imagine she was Esmerelda Barton, feeding soup to hungry, frightened runaways, shushing their fears, and putting salve on their whip welts. Bonnie was often her "runaway," Amanda tending her alltoo-real welts. The girls put cots in one of the caves and stocked it with canned goods and first-aid supplies. Their tunnel was snug and dry, an ideal place to weather David's rages. They kept their cache a secret from Florence, too. Both were sure she would tell David if she knew.The house became for Amanda a place to sort out her own adolescence. Amanda was a bewildered teen because she was basically a social child who couldn't abide social organizations. She had hated Girl Scouts because the troop leader was a stunted woman who thought it more important for young girls to wear gloves and make beds with crisp hospital corners than to go hiking. A muddy girl was an abomination, in this woman's view. Amanda was for mud and messy beds and against gloves. She quit Scouts. She'd also tried 4-H, had loved raising the animals, but hated the club's business emphasis on selling animals for meat at the end of the fair season. To Amanda that was criminal. How could anyone eat a goat, especially one as sweet as her Nubian, Daisy, or the kids, Frank and Jethro? She washed out of 4-H.Then in high school she discovered Civil War history and, with the help of a local historical society, started a women's Civil War reenactor's group which they named the Damn Yankees Club. Bonnie, who did everything Amanda did, joined, of course, and the girls marched in many a Labor Day and Fourth of July parade in their hoopskirts. Amanda recruited women and teens from West Virginia, Kentucky, and southern Ohio for her club. She even persuaded Florence to let the group host Victorian teas at the Mansion a few times. As Amanda and Bonnie became more serious about the hobby, both became sticklers for accuracy. Bonnie was especially serious, as if she needed the club for something more than friendship and roleplaying. She became the club's custodian of the proof book, a scrapbook they kept to document the accuracy of their dress and deportment.Amanda and Bonnie's Civil War hobby held together a friendship that might otherwise have withered because the two women were certain to have different destinies. Bonnie, limited by her abusive childhood, escaped into an early, disastrous marriage. Her only career skill was an ability with makeup; she worked as cosmetics consultant for the department store in town. Amanda, the privileged child of a loving and educated family, went to the Cleveland Institute of Art, earned a bachelor's in graphic design, landed a good job with a publishing company, had been promoted twice and, oh yes, met Bently Cottingham of the Cleveland Cottinghams, as in the very wealthy Cleveland Cottinghams. Bonnie and Amanda might no longer have had anything in common if it weren't for the Civil War or the Barton Mansion. But so intense was that one link, Amanda wanted Bonnie to be her matron of honor.Amanda had told her mother a few things about Bonnie's troubled childhood during those long vigils in the hospital hall. Molly had never known the girl was abused, or, she had thoughtruefully at the time, she might not have let Amanda play with Bonnie either. How could she not have known? she rebuked herself.Betty Matins had tried to reassure her friend. "Country distances are so big," she'd said. "I'm your closest neighbor but still half a mile away. The Barton Mansion is twenty miles away. How could you know what goes on in a home twenty miles away?" The Wests' home was fifteen miles north of the Tricounty's one and only town, New Forge; the Barton Mansion five miles south of the town. All Tricounty children were bused into the schools in New Forge every day. Whenever Amanda wanted to spend the night with Bonnie, she'd take an overnight bag and ride Bonnie's bus after school. When Bonnie stayed at the Wests', she'd ride Amanda's bus. So in all the years the girls had been friends, Molly had needed to visit the Barton Mansion only a handful of times. During that time, Amanda never told her about the beatings or the many nights the girls had hidden from David. It was their secret.Betty's sympathy had no effect. How could a mother have been so unaware? Molly could not be comforted. Her husband Ken, a sociology professor, tried to reassure her, too."Rarely do violent men seem disturbed to outsiders. In fact, the opposite; they can be quite charming, extroverted even. You can't blame yourself for not seeing it," he'd said."But why didn't Amanda tell us?""And what would you have done?""Not let Amanda go over there.""Right, and thus have taken from Bonnie the one source of support she had.""But Amanda could have been in danger.""Also true. What is the right thing to do about family violence, eh?"As Bonnie recovered, Amanda and Sheriff Matins entreated her to testify against Luke. They didn't need her testimony tolaunch a case, but they needed it to defuse a possible defense of "accidental shooting," Matins explained."He's dangerous, Bonnie. For your sake and for his, he must go to prison," Amanda had argued.Her mother, Florence, was opposed. "Not right for a woman to speak against her husband. He'll get you eventually. He'll get his revenge," she'd said.In the end Bonnie agreed to testify and Luke was given a twenty-year sentence. It had been eighteen months since he had been sent upstate to the medium-security prison in Lima. Now he was loose, probably seeking revenge, just as Florence had predicted. Molly shuddered.MOTHER OF THE BRIDE. Copyright © 1998 by Patricia Tichenor Westfall. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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9780312301033: Mother of the Bride: A Molly West Mystery (Molly West Mysteries)

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