Laura Cabot was enjoying the bright sunshine on a Saturday afternoon, unaware her life was about to change.
It was overdue. It wasn’t like she lived a boring life; she made sure that wasn’t the case. Ever since she was a child, Laura knew she would be getting in as many adventures as she could. She was highly observant, and it had led her to seek a job as a reporter for the small newspaper right there in Cottage Grove. The Utah town was 1,500 strong and it was growing every year. Laura was sure someday it would be a booming city, and she wanted to be established as the first woman reporter, staking her claim and making a name for herself.
Not only was Laura inquisitive, she was friendly about it. She was proud of the values her father had instilled in her while she was growing up. He’d died just three years ago when she was twenty-one, so she’d had the privilege of spending all her formative years with him. She wanted to make him proud every single day. It was her only goal in life—to live with the belief that her father could look down on her from Heaven and smile.
Thinking about her father made Laura lift her eyes to the sky. She knew he was there, probably standing with his best friend, Alan. The two of them had died together in a landslide that had come down on a row of cottages on the outskirts of town. They had been two of the first to arrive on the scene and managed to save nine children between them before the debris from the landslide crushed the back of the house they were in, searching for more people to rescue. Her father was bent over a child who was miraculously saved because James had taken the full impact of the roof caving in with a ton of dirt on top of it.
The manner of his death didn’t make the loss any easier, but Laura was confident he was happy in Heaven just like he’d been happy on Earth. While she missed him, she had accepted that he was gone and there was no way for her to change that. He wouldn’t be smiling down on her if she was moping about, grieving him for the rest of her life. That would probably upset him more than anything.
So, Laura dedicated every day she lived and everything she did to making sure her father would be as proud of her as he could possibly be.
She was seated on a bench in an open front yard that looked out over the busy town square, where people were coming and going, children were chasing after big hoops that rolled along in front of them, and men were gathered in twos and threes, chatting about whatever business fancied them. She was trying to think of what her next article could be about.
There were a few sales going on at the stores, discounts being given since it was coming up on Independence Day and everyone wanted to show their American pride, even the foreign workers who were so happy to be in the country. But those were boring stories and Laura didn’t want her readers to be bored. Besides, her boss, John Creswell, expected a lot more from her.
She settled her eyes on one of the groups of men and studied them. It had been a quiet week for her, and she was getting desperate for a new subject. Someone needed to commit a crime so she could cover it.
Laura grinned. She didn’t really want someone to commit a crime. She stood up and walked to the edge of the front yard where the three-rail white gate surrounded the property. Behind her, she could hear a little boy and his mother debating just how much ice cream was appropriate for a seven-year-old and Laura was leaning toward agreeing with the boy.
She eavesdropped for a few moments, a contented smile on her face, her eyes still roaming about the land in front of her. In five years, it would be the turn of the century. She’d have something to write about then. She couldn’t wait to see how big Cottage Grove would be by the year 1900. She was going to interview every single person in town.
Letting out a soft laugh, Laura took a few steps to the right to get to the gate. She leaned forward slightly to unlatch it and went through, turning to close it behind her.
She waited for a wagon to pass and then hurried across the busy street, moving up the sidewalk once she was there, dodging people going in the opposite direction. They could apparently see she was in a rush because they moved out of her way, several men tipping their hats, smiles coming from the ladies. In this part of town, she was known and liked by everyone. If there was someone who didn’t like her, they hadn’t told her so.
Laura wasn’t really in a hurry. She’d just had a thought about a new subject she could cover, and it had to do with children. The schoolhouse was large and had three teachers. If she went quickly enough, she could get to the building when they broke for lunch. That would be the perfect time to discuss an article with whichever teacher was available. It had been almost six months since she last wrote about the kids, giving credit to the children who had excelled in one area or another.
She would write about what they were doing for Independence Day. That would capture the interest of her readers, she was sure.
Laura hopped up from the couch when there was a knock at the door. Her fiancé, Zachary Bell, was coming to pick her up for their afternoon walk through town. She’d spoken to Elizabeth Healey, the schoolmarm who oversaw all events at the school as the head mistress. She had two assistant teachers, Marjory Long and Danielle Beacon. All three women were willing to let Laura look in on their school sessions and talk to the children about what they were planning for the upcoming holiday.
Laura planned to take some time away from her fiancé to drop in at the school and take a few notes while he attended to other things.
“That must be Zach,” her brother Danny said from the table near the window, where he was studying from a large book.
Laura nodded. “Do you want to say hi?”
“Yeah.” Danny turned to sit sideways in the chair, one arm up on the back of it and the other on the table. He was fifteen years old, and he was intrigued by Zach.
That may or may not have been a good thing, as far as Laura was concerned. Zach was outgoing and confident, but in a way that put people off. He was too much for a lot of people. When he spoke, it was with a great deal of energy, as if he had just run from a fire and wanted to tell everyone about it. He was cynical in some ways, especially for a twenty-five-year-old. It didn’t seem like he had enough life experience to be so crass about everything.
But it was that energy that had drawn Laura to him, as she possessed a similar energy on a lower scale. She liked the way he looked at the world, pointing out things that didn’t make sense and poking fun at them. He made her laugh, and that was important to her. She didn’t want to be with someone who was boring and lifeless. Zach was far from lifeless.
Laura didn’t say anything to her mother and sister, who were also in the room. They didn’t have anything to say to her, either. They weren’t fans of Zach, like half the population of Cottage Grove. Laura wasn’t seeing him as a way to rebel against them. When she’d first brought him around five years ago, her father had approved and that was the most important thing.
Zach had changed, though, and hadn’t improved during that time. At least, not according to Laura’s mother.
Laura went to the front door and pulled it open before Zach could pound on it again. She’d told him repeatedly not to bang on the door so hard, but he just couldn’t help it. It was his nature, he said.
His fist was raised and he was about to knock his knuckles into her forehead but stopped himself just in time. He held his arms out to the sides and tilted his head.
“There she is!” he said with exuberance. “My lovely bride-to-be! Come and let me give you a hug and a kiss. You are looking lovely today!”
Laura pulled in a soft breath as she took a step toward him, putting her arms around his neck and squeezing him to her.
“How are you today, Zach? You’re not looking too bad yourself, I must say.”
“Why, thank you, pretty lady.” His voice was loud and echoed through the foyer behind her. “I love it when you compliment me, you know that?” He tapped her on the end of her nose with one finger. “You ready to go in town and be seen by everyone on the arm of a fine gentleman?”
Laura blinked up at him, her arms up against his chest, her hands flat on his leather vest. “Are you giving me to someone else?” she teased.
Zach gasped exaggeratedly, letting his jaw drop. Then he laughed, tilting his head back. “You’re a gem, my dear. Let’s go!”
“First, you have to come in and see Danny. He says hello.”
“Ah, of course, I’ll come in and say hello!”
Laura turned, preparing to go back inside, but stopped abruptly when Danny was there at the door.
He smiled, shaking his head. “Ma and Martina.”
That was all he had to say. The women didn’t want Zach in the house. Laura just didn’t understand that at all.
Still, she nodded and stepped back so Danny could come out, his hand extended. Zach took it and pumped it up and down several times before letting go.
“Danny, my boy, how are you today? Things going well for you?”
Danny’s demure grin plainly reflected the admiration he had for Zach. “Yeah, they are. Thanks for askin’. You, too?”
Zach nodded, reaching out and taking hold of Laura around the shoulders. She stumbled just a bit trying to get close enough where she was comfortable in that position. “Me and your sister are about to go into town and be seen. You wanna come along?”
Danny’s smile widened. “I would but I really gotta study.”
“Aw, you sure?” Zach reached out and tapped Danny on the stomach. “Come on, buddy. Don’t you want to go into town? I’m sure you can find something fun to do. Who wants to study all the time? You’ve gotta have fun, too, don’t you?”
Danny lowered his eyes. Laura felt sorry for him. He was forbidden to spend time with Danny. Their mother had established that already. She insisted there was something odd about Zach she couldn’t quite place her finger on. His actions and behavior, his very personality, just didn’t seem genuine to Alice Cabot. She’d gone so far one time as to describe Zach as “barely a human.” What exactly she’d meant by that was never established, but Laura took it to mean he was a shallow person with low moral standards and values, if any at all.
So far, though, Laura hadn’t seen any unscrupulous behavior from Zach. He never flirted with other women, always made sure to put her in the spotlight while they were out and about, and he had never spoken a cross word to her. She was sure there were women who could only dream of their husbands being as accommodating and complimentary as hers was.
Unfortunately, she didn’t feel as blessed now as she had when they’d first gotten together. She didn’t feel special to Zach. He treated everyone the same way he treated her, except he kissed her and had asked her to marry him. He was not highly affectionate. Zach was over-the-top courteous and gracious to everyone, not just her. She was just another cog in the wheels of Zach’s life.
Because of that, Laura had developed the habit of doing whatever she wanted regardless of what Zach might be doing, planning, or thinking at any given time. If she wanted to go out of Cottage Grove and visit a nearby town or city, she would do so without asking his permission or for him to go along with her. As the years had gone by since they met and decided they wanted to have a life together, she’d become so complacent she couldn’t imagine leaving her family home and living exclusively with Zach.
She doubted he’d be home most of the time, anyway.
As she and Zach walked around town, she watched the reactions of the people around her when they greeted the couple.
Zach talked to anyone and everyone, if given the opportunity. Laura was quieter than usual as she made her observations. And by the end of the day, she’d established one thing for certain: it wasn’t just Zach who came off as disingenuous. Most of the people who greeted him looked like they wanted to get away as fast as they could.
It left Laura feeling a little disheartened.
Detective Jensen Blackwell sat back in his chair, his fingers laced together behind his head. He studied the wood grain of the ceiling as if the swirls and loops would help him solve the dilemma in his mind. His assistant, Andrew Knox, sat on the other side of his desk facing him, his own hands resting on his large stomach.
He was a portly policeman with a head of curly blond hair that was almost white and a mustache that made neat curls on either side, which he kept perfect with a conditioning cream. The good thing about Knox was that he was always in a good mood and had a mind as sharp as a tack. Jensen had a hard time staying in a bad mood when Knox was around.
“I see you thinking,” Knox said in his deep voice. Jensen dropped his eyes to the officer’s face and noticed the smile behind the mustache. “Try not to hurt yourself. Out with it. That’s what I’m here for. Can’t keep me in the dark.”
Jensen knew he was right. He nodded and pulled his arms around front, resting them on top of his desk. “This is the third art forgery that’s been reported in Utah in as many weeks,” he said. “When was the last time, I mean before these three, that an art forgery has been reported? This isn’t England or one of those fancy countries where stuff like that goes on. Hell, it’s not even New York.”
Knox chuckled, his large belly bouncing. “I guess there’s a first time for everything, boss.”
“First time in Provo ever,” Jensen murmured, turning to the side and pulling open a drawer. He lifted out a folder and slapped it down on the desk. “Look at this,” he said, pointing to indicate the folder. “This file is, what, four pages long? Four pages. That’s all the information we have on who might be behind all this? Two hundred suspects spread out all over Utah. Springville, here in Provo, Tuscanville, Littleton. We’ve got men in all those places tracking people down, talking to witnesses. And we’ve got nothing. Nothing.”
He sat back, disappointed in himself and his team. Three weeks was long enough to come up with something, he thought. If it was any normal crime, he might not have been as anxious. But he felt pressured to solve these art forgeries because of the odd nature of it.
He doubted another crime like this would come along in his future, near or distant.
Jensen had another reason for wanting to solve this unfamiliar crime. He was a firm believer in the domino effect. He had to find the people behind this before a more heinous crime was committed. Like murder. Jensen had a feeling about these things, and he always trusted his gut.
“I’ve been here at this agency for going on eight years now, Knox,” he said, sitting back. “And I’ve never had a case like this one.”
Knox shook his head. “Me neither. Not when I was a deputy for the sheriff, either.”
Jensen nodded. Knox had been with the Provo law enforcement since he was a boy of 18. The only reason he was still an assistant and Jensen was a detective was because that was what he chose. He had been offered a detective position but turned it down, saying he was more of a helper than a leader. Plus, he was impressed with Jensen, even though the detective was a good twenty years younger than he was.
Jensen was glad Knox had made that decision. They made a good team, and he wouldn’t want to be without his trusty assistant. Provo was a big city with over 5,000 people. The sheriff and deputies had long since been relieved of the full pressure of enforcing laws. Now there was a hefty police force and the detective faction had been siphoned off into a completely different division. Jensen had joined up at twenty and now, ten years later, he was a detective of the highest rank possible in that division. He’d only spent two years as a regular patrolman.
Jensen was pulled from his thoughts when the door to his office opened and a young man in a smart brown sweater vest poked his head in.
“Detective, there’s been a new development on your art case.”
Jensen couldn’t help the feeling of relief that flooded through him. He said a silent thank you to God and held out his hand. The young man brought in what looked like a telegram. Jensen looked at it and the words written on it took him by surprise. He blinked at it and, glancing up at Knox, read it aloud.
“Cottage Grove. Person of interest. Should be questioned. Zachary Bell.” He dropped the telegram to the desk. “Well, what do you know? I guess somebody found out something. You ready to pack your bags and head to this,” he glanced back down at the telegram, “Cottage Grove?”
Knox grinned. “Yeah. I can be ready in an hour or so. Just gotta throw together a bag. How long do you think we’ll be there?”
“I have no idea. I reckon we’ll be there at least a day, maybe two. Might be more, depending on what we find. You okay with that??”
“An hour sounds good, then. I’ll meet you out front. Clara will get our supplies together and have them ready for us.”
“We’re riding to this place? What if it’s real far? Maybe we should take a train or something.”
Jensen laughed. “You wouldn’t have made it on cattle drives, my friend.”
Knox lifted his bushy blond eyebrows. “Why do you think I’m not a ranch hand?”
Jensen lowered his eyes to make it obvious he was taking in all of Knox’s portly frame, which made the assistant burst out laughing.
“I see your point, but you know, I haven’t always looked like this. I was in good shape when I was your age. Now, I don’t need to bother. If I need something done that takes more energy or strength than what I have, I hire a younger man. There’s always someone searching for a job, you know, even an odd job now and then. There’s four young men that come to mind right now, as I think about it.”
Jensen couldn’t help laughing along with his assistant. “You’re right. Yes, I can understand where you’re coming from.”
He walked around his desk and straight to the door, reaching up to take his hat from the hook on the wall. He turned back to Knox. “An hour, then.”
Knox was standing and following him out when he gave the detective a nod. “An hour.”
Laura crossed the path to the schoolhouse and stopped once she got up the steps. The front deck was extremely wide, and she gazed at the enormous building in front of her. There were three doors to go inside spaced about fifteen feet apart, each leading into a separate part of the school. The children who attended went year-round with two week breaks regularly throughout the year. They were sectioned off by age, one of the rooms designated for the very young ones, another room for children in the middle grades, and the third for the older students who didn’t attend as often because they’d already started working.
She crossed to the door directly in front of her and knocked before opening it and poking her head in. The children were bent over their desks, drawing on slates with chalk. The illustrations looked like stars and explosions—Laura guessed fireworks.
“Good morning, Laura!” Marjory Long, the teacher of the middle grades, stood up and spoke with a smile. She swept her eyes over the group of about ten students in front of her. “Everyone, say hello to Laura. She’s here to write about all the wonderful things you’ve been accomplishing in the last month. No matter how small, if you think her readers would be interested in hearing about it, you just go right over there and tell her about it.”
A noisy shuffle rose up and Marjory laughed, lifting both hands up in the air.
“Wait, wait! Not yet, and certainly not all at once. Stay seated and if you want to say something to her, I’m sure she’ll be making her way around the room to talk to each of you.” Marjory gave Laura an inquisitive look. “Was that your plan, Laura? I believe that’s what you did last time you were here.”
Laura nodded. “I might as well,” she replied. “If the method works, why change it.”
“You are so right about that, my dear,” Marjory replied. She came around her desk, her hand held out. Laura shook it, moving her eyes to the various children at the long tables, three chairs with three students at each table. “There will be an Independence Day play, is that right?”
“Yes, the traditional play will be taking place. They haven’t decided what they’re going to do yet, though.”
Laura’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? It’s getting a little close, isn’t it?”
Marjory laughed softly, nodding. “Yes, and they are aware that if they don’t hurry up and decide and start practicing, they will have to do the same one they did last year, with everyone playing the same roles, because that will be easier than coming up with something new—especially at this late date, as you said.”
“Well, I’m looking forward to it, either way. I’ll just add that to my questioning when I’m talking to them.” An idea came to her mind and a smile spread across her face. “I know,” she said excitedly, “how about I find out who would like to do what play and we will take a survey. Whatever play is the most liked, that will be the one for this year. What do you think?”
Marjory gave her a grateful look. “Oh, would you do that for me? Thank you so much, Laura. That would be so kind. You are a dear friend to this school.”
Laura laughed, enjoying the concept of being a dear friend to a building. She knew what Marjory meant, though, and thanked her for the compliment.
Before she left, Laura planned on going to the higher grade levels room to see Danny. He was likely there with his nose pushed in a book and she wanted to check on him. Of all the members of the family impacted by their father’s death, Danny was hit hardest. He was suddenly the man of the house at just twelve years old. Of course, no one expected him to take on those responsibilities. He was just a boy and his mother and sisters treated him that way. But that didn’t stop him from feeling as if he had to be a man. He’d struggled mightily with feeling that way and knowing he was much too young to take on the care of his mother and sisters.
In the three years since, Danny had studied hard, determined to become an engineer, working in geology to find a way to predict, prevent, and control landslides like the one that killed his father. His knowledge in the industry was already vast for someone so young and Laura expected great things out of him. Who knew? He might become one of the most famous scientists of all time. She felt he was smart enough for that.
For a moment, she pondered doing a separate article on him and what he was accomplishing. This led her to thoughts of writing articles on all children struggling and making it through sheer will, guts, and determination. The only thing that would keep Danny from accomplishing his dreams would be if a war broke out. God forbid that should happen. Laura didn’t even like it that the thought crossed her mind.
For the next hour or two, Laura went from child to child, interrupting their holiday sketches to ask them various questions about what their interests were, how they liked living in Cottage Grove, if they had anything interesting and exciting to tell her that she could add into her article. She got several humorous quotes and a few serious ones, but it wasn’t the intelligence of the students that really caught her eye.
She could see the differences in their income just by looking at them. And as they were sitting beside each other, those differences were glaringly obvious. The children from the poorer families were dressed in tatters, but they were clothed. The children from the richer families were dressed nicely, one little girl with two bright yellow ribbons in her long brown hair. No matter their appearance, each child looked happy and alert, ready to learn from their teacher and peers. No one looked discontent and she heard no arguing other than normal teasing.
Marjory let the children have some free time while Laura was there. They’d established a different day for her to come and observe them while she taught them. Today was a fun day for them, basically doing whatever they wanted to for those nearly two hours. Several thanked her in an adorable way for giving them such a long break from the tiresome lessons their teacher was apparently giving them.
This just made her laugh. She knew if Marjory heard it, she would probably laugh, too. She was a good-natured woman with the perfect temperament to care for and teach a bunch of ten-to-thirteen-year-olds.
After making her rounds, she said goodbye to the middle grade children and went to the inside door that opened up to the higher grade levels. She didn’t knock on the door because the sudden disturbance might bother the students. Instead, she just pulled open the door and looked inside. These students had their own individual desk and chair set, lined up in rows all around the room, which was no bigger than the room she was leaving—it was just an illusion because the middle grade room had more shelves along the walls whereas this one had hardly any shelves at all.
She spotted Danny right away. All the students turned to look at her when she opened the door, but he was the only one who stood up and came toward her. She slipped inside the door and spoke quietly when he reached her.
“I’m not interrupting anything, am I? It’s so quiet in here.”
Danny glanced over his shoulder and looked back at her, shaking his head.
“Nah, everybody is reading and studying on their own time. Let’s go outside if you want to talk, though.”
“I just wanted to stop and say hi,” Laura replied, keeping her voice low. “We don’t need to really talk. Especially if you’re doing something important.”
He grinned. “Studying, as always. But I’d rather get back to it, if there’s nothing important you wanted to tell me.”
Laura shook her head, reaching out to run her fingers through his soft brown hair, sweeping it to the side. “No, just checking on my little brother. I love you, ya know.”
He pursed his lips. “All right. One mother is enough.”
They both laughed softly.
“But I do love you, too, sis,” Danny said quietly. “Thanks for coming to see me.”
“The Sparkle in Her Eyes” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Laura Cabot is facing a dilemma. While trying to decide if she really wants to marry Zachary Bell, she begins to notice disturbing changes that don’t bode well for a future union. As if that wasn’t enough, she ends up entangled in his sudden disappearance… Still, Laura is used to challenges. She quickly begins to help out Detective Blackwell, a fascinating man who impresses her with his determination to solve the case. Until she becomes the main suspect…
Detective Jensen Blackwell finds the little town of Cottage Grove and its residents intriguing, none more so than Laura Cabot. As soon as the captivating journalist offers to assist him, he feels an immediate connection he simply can’t resist. Yet he knows he must focus on solving this troubling case, no matter where it may lead… Caught in a web of scandal and confusion, a familiar face reappears and suddenly everything Jensen thought he knew is thrown into question…
Jensen is set on fighting his attraction to Laura, desperate to figure out the mystery surrounding Zachary Bell. When a long-buried secret comes to the surface though, Jensen and Laura find themselves working together closer than ever to unravel the truth. Will they also embrace their unanticipated feelings along the way?
“The Sparkle in Her Eyes” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.