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Fall From Grace

The Wild Rose Press

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Word Count: 51,270
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When her beloved Aunt Grace is found dead on the floor of her bedroom, eleven-year-old Zoe Delaney is convinced it was murder. Determined to get to the truth of the matter, and with the help of a journal she finds under her aunt’s bed, Zoe sets out to investigate her aunt’s death. Her covert investigation, however, soon turns up evidence that her aunt, a highly regarded ethics professor at Rhode Island College, might not have been the person Zoe and others thought she was. Zoe is forced to face the possibility that, rather being an innocent victim, her Aunt Grace may have murdered several people.

Should she turn her discoveries over to her parents—and the police—or destroy the evidence and save her aunt’s reputation?

Excerpt

Zoe set down the newspaper. She closed her eyes, trying to keep from crying. Even though her dad had been raised Catholic, her family had only attended services a few times. She wished she knew more about what happened to people after they died. She thought about what Mrs. Lee had said—that Grace was still here inside of her.

“Help me, Aunt Grace,” she whispered. “Please tell me what to do.ˮ But, try as she may, she heard no answer. After a few moments, Zoe opened her eyes. Maybe she needed one of those crystal balls like the fortune tellers used to communicate with the dead.

She took a deep breath and walked over to the large window. The sun was barely visible through the pale gray cloud cover. The pink impatiens along the edge of the deck, so colorful just a few days ago, sprawled dead and limp on the ground—victims of the killer frost.

Suddenly she felt overcome by a sense of urgency. She needed to find a way to get Grace’s journal to the police so they could see what a wonderful person her aunt was. A pile of unopened mail in a leather letter tray caught her eye.

Then she had an idea. Maybe she could mail the journal to the police—anonymously, of course. Except, she couldn’t mail the journal from Exeter, or the police might suspect her of having taken it.

She leaned back against the wall and rubbed her forehead. Think. Maybe she could mail it from North Kingstown where the funeral parlor and the church were—that was, if she could sneak away and if there was a mailbox nearby—and those were big “ifs.ˮ The only problem was that the police might still suspect her since Zoe and her family only lived a little over a mile—an easy walk—from the North Kingstown town line.

Then she remembered Jen took dance classes in Warwick. Maybe she could ask Jen to mail it while she was there. If the journal was mailed from Warwick, the police would naturally suspect Luke’s kids of having stolen it, since they lived in Warwick. Her jaw tightened. It would serve them right for accusing Grace of being—what did Dad call it?—a “black widow spider.”

Zoe slumped down in the desk chair and crossed her arms. Dad was busy with the lawyer and had mentioned he had a four o’clock appointment with a client after that. Mom never got home before five-thirty on Fridays. Meanwhile here she was—stuck at home—alone with nothing to do.

She looked around. She was considering losing herself in a video game when a thought occurred to her. It was at least three hours before either of her parents would get home. That gave her plenty of time to get the journal from next door. Except—she felt a pang of guilt—she had promised Dad. Then again, she had kept her promise to him—she was back from walking Yoda within twenty minutes, just like she had said she would be. And the garage next door was almost like being home. If she stood in the right place, she could see her house through the woods. So really, when you thought about it, she wasn’t doing anything wrong.

Her conscience satisfied, she began searching through the desk drawers and found a large envelope. Taking three stamps off the roll in the top drawer, she placed them in the upper right hand corner of the envelope. She paused. Would three stamps be enough?

She pulled another twenty stamps from the roll and stuck them in four neat rows in the corner of the envelope. There. Returning to the computer, she typed in “Rhode Island State Police and Detectives” and clicked on “search.ˮ Using her left hand to disguise her handwriting she wrote the address for the Rhode Island State Police Detective Bureau in Scituate in large bold letters on the front of the envelope.

Once this was done, she grabbed her fleece jacket, folded the envelope, and put it in the deep pocket on the inside of the jacket. Yoda followed her to the back door. He whimpered and cocked his head and gazed up at her with pleading eyes.