About the Book
An abandoned house. A family vanished. When Wynne Forrester moves to the small town of Lake Claire, she hopes to find the life she’s longed for since spending summers there as a child. While opening her bookstore and rekindling old friendships, she makes a discovery that will bring a fifteen year old mystery from the past straight into the present. Enlisting the help of attractive photographer, Noah Sutton, she uncovers a trail of evidence and danger that will lead to an unavoidable end. Will the two of them have the chance to embrace their deepening relationship or will it die along with them as an unknown killer tries to bury a decades old crime once more?
The wooden clapboard house stood stark and lonely against the dark blue-grey rain clouds. It was mid-afternoon, but darkness had already descended, and the skies grew more ominous by the minute. I stood calf-deep in grass that hadn’t been cut for who knew how long, studying the house. White paint barely clung to the weathered boards, and the front porch sagged from neglect and the changing seasons. Fifteen years had passed, and yet it looked the same.
This house and I had history; one built on tragedy and mystery.
I wondered if the porch would hold my weight. I doubted it but was tempted to try anyway, just to be able to peek in the dusty windows. But the threatening skies convinced me that I should wait for another day to find out. I pulled my phone from the pocket of my brown corduroy jacket and snapped a picture, hoping I caught the heavy clouds and windblown grass along with the house. The sense of isolation they evoked matched my emotions. With one last look at the desolate place that had haunted my dreams since I was fourteen, I turned away.
The first drops of rain hit my face as I jogged toward my car. I stopped and tilted my face up while digging in my pocket for my keys. The clean, sweet-smelling air was almost potent enough to make me forget driving into town until I’d had my fill of wandering grassy fields pretending I was the heroine in an Austen or Bronte novel. The scent of rain never failed to transport me to worlds I’d only read and dreamt about.
If my grandparents weren’t expecting me to join them for Sunday dinner, I probably would have indulged myself but there was no way I was going to bring the wrath of David and Rose Newton down on my head. Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandparents. They were anchors for me during a time in my childhood when my family broke apart. Summer visits to Lake Claire held some of my favorite memories. As a shy teenager, I’d walked the town spinning dreams of what my future might hold with the house that stood barren and neglected behind me centering most of my thoughts. I longed to fill the ache of unbelonging I’d never been without, and there had always been an air of melancholy to the house behind me that whispered to my heart like a long-lost friend.
As I climbed into my little silver Toyota I smiled, feeling my heart bump in anticipation. I’d been planning for this day since I was seven years old. Lake Claire was the perfect place to make a life; I was certain then and certain now. Of course, at that point, the details of that life were quite a bit hazier. With a check over my shoulder and a peek at the side mirror, I shifted into drive and pulled out onto the highway, heading toward town. The clock on the dashboard showed me that I had seven minutes to make it to my grandparents’ house before I’d be late for lunch. I could do that, I thought, and pressed down harder on the accelerator.
Within minutes, I pulled into the drive of a pleasant little bungalow that had the kind of worn look that told you the owners who cared for it were getting tired. I pulled a comb out of my purse and quickly ran it through my brown chin-length hair before swiping on shimmering lip gloss. I grabbed my purse, climbed out of my car, and headed through the gate and around to the back door of my grandparent’s house.
“Hello!” I called, opening the door after a quick knock. “Grandma and Grandpa, are you here?”
“In the kitchen – come on in.”
I slipped my shoes off and shrugged out of my jacket before walking down a short hall-way to arrive in the bright, cheery kitchen. My grandfather rose from the table and gave me a firm hug, the bristles on his cheeks scratching my chin. I was nearly six feet tall and towered over my five foot, four inch grandfather, always feeling like an awkward giant next to him.
“It’s nice to see you again, Wynne. Your grandmother was beginning to worry that you had run into trouble somewhere. There are dangerous people on the roads these days, particularly for a woman traveling by herself.”
I wondered what he would think if he knew I’d been out to the Jackson house. Better off not mentioning that little detail, I thought before responding aloud.
“Oh, no more so than for a man traveling by himself, I suppose. I don’t think highways can tell the difference between the sexes.”
As usually happened when I was tired, my sarcastic mental imp ran for freedom. Honesty, good, I reminded myself, smart remarks, counter-productive. I turned to the small, round woman stirring soup that was simmering fragrantly in a pot on the stove and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Her soft, white hair smelled like flowers amid the savory odor of broth and chicken. “Hi, Grandma,” I said, giving her a gentle squeeze and then releasing her. “Sorry if I’m a little late.”
She glanced up and smiled absently. “Well, you’re here now, aren’t you? I think we’ll just leave the soup simmering on the stove, but everything else can go on the table. Wynne, why don’t you sit in between us? We want to hear all about your plans.”
We settled ourselves and the table and, after pausing to give thanks, began to eat. “I assume,” my grandfather asked, clearing his throat, “you’re still intending to live over the store, Wynne? I don’t know if that’s a wise decision.”
“The apartment is included in the mortgage I’m paying on the building. It doesn’t make sense to pay rent somewhere else when I can stay there. Besides, it’s a beautiful old place with hardwood floors and plenty of sunlight from the picture window. Two bedrooms are more than I need but I can use one as an office and save space in the store.”
“But you’ll be living alone, won’t you? Even in a small town like Lake Claire, that may not be the safe. We worry about you, dear.”
“I think God will keep me safe just as well there as anywhere else, don’t you?” I finished my soup and pushed the bowl away from me, ready to change the subject. “Did I tell you I’m planning to have my grand opening on Wednesday? The sign is ready and will be installed Tuesday afternoon. I can hardly wait to see it!”
“What are you calling it again?” Grandma’s bright blue eyes were curious.
“Wynne’s Books. I thought about calling it It’s About Tome but Mom convinced me that might just be confusing.”
The blank looks both grandparents gave me confirmed that my mother’s advice was sound. I opened my mouth to explain the name and then shut it again. It wasn’t worth the effort. “Well, I should probably be on my way, Grandma, Grandpa,” I said, pushing my chair back and rising. “I still need to unload everything from my car and unpack this afternoon. I want to rest up tomorrow after church and then organize the store on Monday and Tuesday. I’m going to attend Lake Claire Community instead of Bethel Baptist,” the latter was the church they’d always attended, but I felt the former, pastored by old college friends of mine, would be a better fit for me, “but don’t worry! You’ll still see lots of me. It’s not like I’m joining some cult.”
I winced as soon as the words left my mouth. I couldn’t have chosen a worse comparison if I’d tried.
“I’m sorry. I know how rough things were here in town when that bizarre group got a foothold, especially after the Jacksons disappeared.” I tried to smooth the feathers I’d inadvertently ruffled. “Didn’t they disband shortly after that, though? I haven’t heard anything more than whispers about the Children of the Elements in the past fifteen years.”
My grandfather hitched his thumbs through the loops of his suspenders and cleared his throat gruffly.
“They’re all gone now. Nobody would do business with them after the Jackson family disappeared. The whole town knew that cult had something to do with it but the police could never prove it. We carried out our own kind of justice and made it clear that they weren’t welcome here. They got the hint and moved on.”
“Who owns the Jackson house now?” I tried not to let my voice convey how much I wished it was me. That would only give my grandparents one more thing to worry over. “The family never did turn up, did they?”
“No, they didn’t,” answered my grandmother. “About seven years after they disappeared, there was talk that they could be declared dead and their property sold off. Kevin Ferris hovered around like a vulture trying to push the issue until the lawyers found out that the property actually belongs to Mr. Jackson’s brother. He lives somewhere out west, doesn’t seem to want to sell and barely keeps the house up, but he pays the taxes. You know what those Ferris boys are like, Wynne–always wanting what isn’t theirs. They’ve been that way for generations.”
I had to smile at my grandmother’s description of the Ferris family. I’d played with Kevin when we were kids, and he’d always tried to steal my toys. She was absolutely right.
“When I drove past, it still looked abandoned. Nobody’s live there since the Jacksons disappeared?”
“Nobody lives there and nobody has for the past fifteen years, but Mr. Jackson’s brother won’t sell. Linda Robins–you know that real estate lady with the big teeth and tight suits?” I smirked at Grandma’s description, coughing to cover a giggle. “Well,” Grandma sailed on, “she said she got in touch with him to ask him why. He still believes that his sister and her family might come back some day. It’s sad, but that’s the truth of the matter.”
“That is sad.” I took another step toward the back stairs. “Well, thanks again for lunch, Grandma and Grandpa. I’m sure I’ll see quite a bit of you now that I’m living here.”
“We’d love to have you any time you’re not too busy. I hope you don’t forget us once you have the store up and running.”
“I could never forget you guys,” I enfolded my grandmother in a firm hug before doing the same to my grandfather.
“We love you, sweetie.”
“I love you, too.” I grabbed my jacket and purse, slipping on my shoes. “See you soon!” I called over my shoulder as I breathed in the crisp spring air, making my way through the gate to my car in the driveway. I looked up as I pulled out of the drive and waved at my grandparents who stood silhouetted in the front window. With a final smile and wave, I headed on my way. I’d forget about the house and my dreams. The store, my new life, was what mattered now.
About the Author
Kelsey Greye grew up and lives in western Canada. She holds a masters degree in Theological Studies and loves being part of God’s work in and through the local church. An avid reader, some of her favorite authors are Charlotte Bronte, Agatha Christie and Grace Livingston Hill, which probably explains her affinity for rainy days, minor-key music and a strong cup of tea. All That Remains is her third novel.