Authors: Stephanie Jaye Evans
More praise for
FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH
“In addition to a smart mystery, readers will enjoy humorous takes on running a church, owning a dog, and dealing with father-daughter angst. The clever structure, remarkable dialog, and subplots result in a wholly satisfying read.”
“Packs a considerable punch.Â .Â .Â . Readers will look forward to seeing more of Bear, with his formidable intellect, tart sense of humor, and resolute sense of justice.”
“Well-delineated characters, including the self-deprecating hero, drive this first-person account, which is strengthened further by the perceptive examination of family relationships and the portrait of the life and work of a minister.”
“Bear is a wonderful amateur sleuth.”
The Mystery Gazette
“Extremely readable with great characters that you love and hate (even when it comes to the âholiest'). In addition, the author certainly teaches readers about the vibrant attitudes, policies, loyalties, and entertaining attitudes that dwell in the Lone Star State. It will be very interesting to see this series continue. Enjoy!”
“[A] warmhearted and clever detective story.”
âM. C. Beaton, author of
Hiss and Hers
“Praise be! A new series with a soul, a heart, and a down-home Texas twang. Preacher Bear Wells is an entirely original sleuth and author Stephanie Jaye Evans is that real rarity: a debut writer with dead-on dialogue, winning characters, andâ
âSusan Wittig Albert, author of the China Bayles Mysteries
“Stephanie Jaye Evans's marvelous debut sets the traditional village cozy smack-dab in the middle of today's suburban planned community. Evans's gift for colorful characters enlivens
Faithful Unto Death
, while her assured writing propels it forward. I love her reluctant clerical sleuth, the Reverend Walker âBear' Wells. Bring on the next Sugar Land Mystery!”
New York Times
bestselling author of
One Was a Soldier
“Unexpectedly magnificentÂ .Â .Â .
Faithful Unto Death
is not only a brilliant murder mystery, but also a well-thought-out provocative tale of family secretsÂ .Â .Â . EnthrallingÂ .Â .Â . I never thought a book about a preacher could be so much funÂ .Â .Â .
Faithful Unto Death
is a humorous and splendid murder mystery worthy of ten stars!”
SAFE FROM HARM
Stephanie Jaye Evans
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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For more information about the Penguin Group, visit penguin.com.
This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.
Copyright Â© 2013 by Stephanie Evans.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author's rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Berkley Prime Crime trade ISBN: 978-0-425-25346-5
eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-61961-2
An application to register this book for cataloging has been submitted to the Library of Congress.
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Â© Lara Solt/Dallas Morning News/Corbis.
Cover design by Judith Lagerman.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content..
For Richard Allen Box.
He knows why.
Malice Domestic awarded me their 2010 William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Award for Unpublished Writersâthe award and the organization have made such a difference in my writing career. Harriette Sackler and Arleen Trundy have been invaluable mentors.
Trevor Pinkerton and Father Brian Barron gave me invaluable information on converting to Catholicism. Both were generous with their time. Jo's feelings are her own, but I couldn't have gotten it right without their help.
Captain Stuart Denton of the Sugar Land Police Department answered endless e-mailed questions and finally agreed to meet me for lunch so I could ask all my questions at once. I'm sure he thought that would make the e-mails stop, but it didn't and he patiently continued to respond. The man has some great stories!
Sarah and Gabe Cortez helped me with questions regarding the Houston Police Department's policies, and about Texas gun law. Sarah, author of
How to Undress a Cop
, one of my favorite books of contemporary poetry, remains a writing mentor forever.
George Copeland (author of
, my new favorite noir novel) and Bill Enyart (who takes my son Charlie hunting and has kept the boy from shooting off a body part, thank you, Bill) coped with many tedious questions regarding firearms. George has made the serious mistake of promising to teach me how to shoot various guns. One of us is looking forward to that.
Samira Fitts, one of my spiritual heroes, allowed me to use one of her stories.
Carol Dilley and Pam Allan have been invaluable allies in getting out the word about
Faithful Unto Death
, the first in the Sugar Land MysteriesâI am so grateful to them both.
Anne Kimbol, John Kwiatkowski and McKenna Jordan of Murder By the Book (the very best mystery bookstore I have ever had the privilege to linger in for hours and hours and hours) have been so supportive. I can never repay them. In fact, none of us in the mystery community can ever repay them.
Thank you to Karla Hodde of Katy Budget Books, one of my favorite independent booksellers. She hosted such a fun reading for meâcookies and tea, too! And I got to make a bloody handprint for their wall.
Safe From Harm
, I had the assistance of two of The Berkley Publishing Group's finest editors, Faith Black and my own beautiful Shannon Jamieson Vazquez. Unless you have ever had the help and attention of a truly brilliant and committed editor, you cannot know how they transform a book. I had two. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.
By the grace of God (there's no other way to explain it) I am represented by Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management. There isn't a better agent on earth. There can't be. I am her devoted fan forever and ever amen. If she ever needs a kidney, I'm her girl.
I am so grateful to the many readers and reviewers who contacted me. You can't know how encouraging I found your words and support.
Dwain and Barbara Evans and Lisa and Michael Nicholls are always there for meâquestions regarding real estate, Houston history, whatever I needâthey are there.
Drs. Hank Venable, Tim Sitter, Fae Garden and Adam Garden, Les Schoppe, and George Boyle assisted me in my fictional murders. Thank you, all.
The Pinkertons, the Phelps, the Sitters, the Marnoysâthese couples hold me up with their stories and advice and encouragement.
Jay, Christina, Evans and Charlie, Adam, Larissa, Mackenzie and David, you feed my heart and forgive me my failings. Thank you.
Always my thanks to my husband, Richard Box. He puts up with more than any man should be called to. Janet Reid says Richard is the perfect writer's spouse. She's right. He's that, and so very much more.
o one was there when she let herself into the dark house, the preacher's house, her friend's houseâshe was alone, alone and empty, and there was only this house where she could come, when she wanted, if it was empty, if they were gone, she could come and let herself in with her key, it was her key, it was. Her key to this house.
She dropped the key on the floor.
The dog was a dog and he didn't care. He was used to her visits and he came and pressed his head against her side and walked with her to the kitchen. She didn't put a light on. She didn't need to. She knew the house.
She straightened the frame of the family portrait when she passed. Too dark to see it and she knew the faces anyway. The mom, dad and older sister, tall and blonde and blue-eyed, and the slight, dark youngest sister who wore a secret smile. No place in the picture for another sister, who could be dark or blonde, whatever they wanted.
The cool, dark kitchen smelled of, what? Bergamot. Earl Grey, maybe. Names she had learned here in this house. Her hand found a mug in the sink and she touched her tongue to the rim, then tilted the cooled tea into her mouth. Milky and sweet and smoky.
They had had tea. The family had sat around the table, and they had drunk tea, together, like a family, sweet, milky tea like a family in a book. She drank the tepid tea dregs from the three cups, rinsed the mugs and put them in the dishwasher.
The fridge was filled with cartons of milk and juice, a Ziploc with carrot sticks, another with celery, plastic containers filled with blurred mysteries. She rested her head against the cool, polished steel and looked for a long time. She pulled a container out and popped the top. Cookie dough. She scooped some out with a trembling finger and tasted it. Ginger. With lemon. She gave the dog a pinch of dough. She carefully sealed the carton and put it back in and chose another. This held a vegetable casserole that had started to fur. She dumped the contents into the sink and ran the disposal. Rinsed the plastic carton out and put it in the dishwasher, too.
She wiped the counters down and the smell of the cleaner made her gag. She leaned over the sink and waited; nothing came up. She stayed that way a minute, resting her hot cheek against the cool granite. The dog snuffled at her ankles and she stood. Rinsed and dried the sink. Dropped the dishtowel into the basket on the floor of the laundry room. All without turning on a light.
The bed in the parents' room was made, but mussed. Someone had taken a nap without moving the bedspread. She smoothed the wrinkles, and tucked in a sheet corner that peeked out from under the spread. She tried a spray of the mom's perfume. Spritzed her wrists and r
ubbed them together and then sniffed. It smelled clean, astringent. She sprayed a little at the base of her throat, too. She put a hand down for the dog to smell and he sneezed, then licked her hand and nudged his head underneath it. She rubbed the velvet of his ears.
In the dark family room, she drew her hand over the backs of the couch and the chairs, feeling the rough and the smooth. She sat in the preacher's chair and the leather creaked. His Bible was open over the arm of the chair and she picked up the heavy, limp book, the cover as soft as the dog's ear, and turned a few of the whisper-thin pages. The pages crackled under her fingers. She couldn't see the words in the dark. She found the frayed ribbon that marked his place and tied a loose knot in it. A message, if he could read it.
For a long time, she sat there, the dog resting his big head on her knees.
The stairway was lined with the daughters' pictures, shadowy and vague in the dark. One blonde head, then one brown head, then the blonde again, and then the brown, the girls in the pictures growing younger as she climbed the stairs to the room where her old friend, no longer a friend, slept each night.
The room glowed dimly from the big goose-shaped lamp that held a five-watt bulb in its expansive belly, the light on, day or night. There were trophies in the bookcase and dried corsages on the bulletin board that held dozens of pictures of the dark-haired girl with her friends, her family, her guy. A pair of worn-out toe shoes hung from the end of the ballet barre fixed to one wall. Clothes spilled from a dresser drawer. Twin brass beds stood side by side, a homemade quilt draped over a brass rail. It had the alphabet appliquÃ©d on it. For the letter
it said, “J is for Jo,” and there was a little girl in a pinafore and a bonnet, carefully stitched in.
She wanted to sleep here tonight. She wanted to take a hot bath with pink bath salts and a bar of soap that would float if it slipped from your wet fingers. She wanted to dry off with a thick, white towel, and put on pajamas, cotton ones, laundered thin, with flowers sprinkled over the top. And elastic-waist bottoms that came all the way down to her toes.
She wanted to curl up with the quilt on the little brass bed. The mom would bring her a cup of tea, hot and sweet and milky. The mom would read to her. “In the great green room, there was a telephone, and a red balloon, and a picture ofâthe cow jumping over the moonÂ .Â .Â .”
The mom would smooth her hair off her face, and kiss her right
, the exact spot the tear had reached. And hear her say her prayers. And tuck her in.
She wanted to lie down on that soft, warm bed, and close her eyes, and go to sleep.
And never wake up.