Brenda Maxwell stepped through overgrown crabgrass and gazed up at the rear of the old
two-story house, which stretched high into the cloudless, dark-blue spring sky. It needed
scraping and painting, that was for sure, but that was the least of it. The blackened asphalt
shingles were curled up and some were missing. Three windowpanes were broken out and
the back porch was a mess.
She shifted onto one leg, scratched her head with her pencil, and turned to Carole
Spritzer, her friend and employee. “We could just go to the beach or something,” she said.
“I’ve never seen a house this bad.”
Carole nodded. “You got that right.”
She, too, gazed at the building. She stood a head shorter than Brenda, and probably was
twenty pounds heavier, a fact she kept well concealed in her baggy coveralls. While some
women wore them as a fashion statement, Brenda knew she wore them the old-fashioned
way. Ragged from serious work.
Brenda jotted notes into her black leatherette notebook and frowned. “Worse than the
Wallace place,” she said. “Worse than that house in Fairhope and it was terrible. Worse
“Like you said, let’s go to that beach.” Carol rubbed her hands together. “We could be
squishing our toes in that white sand in less than an hour.”
Brenda tapped Carole’s skull with her notebook and returned her attention to the list. “Repair
back porch floor,” she said, again scribbling. She looked up. “That rotten floor is a threat to
the whole human race. I almost fell through it yesterday.”
Carole peeled her third Weight Watcher’s snack bar of the day, bit off a piece, and
turned in a slow circle, eyeing the yard. Brenda followed her gaze. Those azaleas had to be
ten feet high, probably were trimmed last when Coolidge was president. Two partially
dismantled cars sat by an old carriage house on the back property line, itself swaybacked
and crying for paint and attention. The blooming purple morning glories hanging from the
shed produced a cloyingly sweet aroma that attacked her nostrils when the breeze blew just
right, as it did now. Carole gobbled the last of the bar and thrust the wrapper into her side
Brenda put pencil to paper. “Romp in waves.” She scribbled some more. “Be ogled by
seriously handsome men.” She added large curlicues and stabbed the paper with a final,
Carole eyed her. “Yeah, right. You’re in pig heaven right here, and you know it. If that
house didn’t have a ton of things wrong with it you’d go batty.”
Brenda knew her friend was right. She’d proven it several times since escaping from
her mom’s dreadful tract house and equally dreadful second husband ten years ago.
Actually, the very day after her high school graduation. Between night classes and day
condo-cleaning jobs, then later as an apprentice with a licensed interior designer in Mobile,
she sure didn’t have much romping time. She had even less after starting Maxwell’s
Mansions a year ago. No, romping was not her thing. Old houses were.
Mystery at Magnolia Mansion
She considered the forlorn structure before her. Particularly this house, tucked away in
Magnolia Springs, Alabama. It was a basket case, that was for sure. It must have been cool
when built a century before to house northern timberland buyers, ferried across Mobile Bay
with money in hand. Some brought suitcases of booze and decks of playing cards, the
stories went, and a good time was had by all.
She’d discovered it while driving to visit a friend on the Magnolia River, immediately
dubbed it Magnolia Mansion because of the huge magnolia tree in its front yard, and had
since made special trips just to view it. Unfortunately, to also watch it deteriorate as uncaring
tenants trashed it and unknowing out-of-state owners cashed their rent checks. Once she’d
almost marched right up to the front door to ask whoever answered, “Who gave you
permission to wreck this treasure?” At least she’d told herself several times that she should
have done that. When she got that call from the new out-of-town owner’s secretary three
weeks ago, asking if she’d like to help fix it up, there was only one possible answer. Yes,
“It must have been something,” Brenda said softly.
“What?” Carole crossed her arms and peered at her friend. A morning-glory breeze
brought long strands of hair across her face and she idly pushed them back.
“Oh, nothing. This house sure has a history.”
A thump sounded off to the right of the old building, then a string of curses. Brenda’s
eyes rolled skyward. What was his name? She glanced at the old van parked in the gravel
driveway. “Jacobs Foundation Services,” the sign on its side said. Jacobs himself was
explaining to his workers, in no uncertain terms, the finer points of jacking up a house to
replace its sill.
As she eyed the van a long Lincoln Town Car turned off Oak Street onto Jessamine and
paused at the driveway. The driver, a man perhaps thirty years old, rolled down his window
and stared at the work van, Brenda’s beat-up Ford Taurus, and finally Carole’s equally
dented Chevy pickup. He backed up, shifted into drive, and aimed for the small space
between the van and Brenda’s car.
“Hey, watch it!” Brenda said. The Lincoln skidded to a stop an inch from scraping her
car’s rear bumper. The driver shifted gears and the car spun backwards.
“I said watch it!” Brenda tossed her notebook down and stomped over to the driveway.
“That’s my car you’re trying to demolish!”
Brenda and the driver exchanged wide-eyed looks. He peeled out toward the roadside
beyond the drive, locked his brakes, and stepped out into the dust storm he’d created. “And
that,” he said, as if announcing it to all of Magnolia Springs, “is my driveway.”
The man strode along the row of overgrown azaleas and stopped at the drive. His dark
pin-striped suit coat puckered around a lone button as he clamped his hands on his sides and
reared back, like he was a Greek statue or something. Well, maybe the suit and the rearing
back didn’t make him look like that. It could have been the slightly bent nose or the broad
shoulders. Brenda slumped as she stared at his imposing figure.
He relaxed and grinned, showing dimples that wouldn’t quit. “My driveway. I happen to
own this dump.”
“Oh, you’re David Hasbrough!” She extended her hand and he grasped it in both of his.
“Sorry about that close call,” he said. “I really thought that space was big enough.”
Mystery at Magnolia Springs
“That house is not a dump,” she said. The animal warmth from his hands seemed to
consume her. “It’s a great house. At least, it used to be.”
“And who might you be?” He released her, but her senses remembered his firm grip.
“I’m Brenda Maxwell.”
“Maxwell, Maxwell. Oh, you’re the decorator.” He glanced again at the vehicles
blocking his driveway, and his gaze locked on the magnetic sign on her car’s door. His arms
relaxed to his sides, and his wrinkled jacket smoothed to form a perfect replica of a Brookes
Brothers ad. His shape resembled a “V,” with a handsome face on top and highly-polished
black wingtip shoes at the bottom. She’d pictured the new owner to be a pot-bellied old man
with chins that had chins, not this gorgeous hunk.
“Maxwell’s Mansions…” he read aloud.
“But ‘mansions?’ What’s with the ‘mansions?’” He turned from her clunky car to her.
“Well, I had to call my business something,” she said. “Are you making fun?”
“No, please don’t think that. I’m sure it’s a perfectly good name. I’m just curious, that’
s all. Why ‘mansions?’”
This was getting ridiculous. She stretched just a bit taller. “Well, if you have to know, I
thought of calling it ‘Maxwell’s Castles.’ But that didn’t sound right, so I decided on
“But…” He frowned, as if divining her business name selection secrets was somehow of
the utmost importance.
“Well, if you really have to know, just can’t live without that vital information, it tells
how I view my clients’ homes. I’m sure, even in New York, you’ve heard the saying, ‘a
man’s home is his castle.’”
He turned back toward her. “Oh, I’ve upset you. I’m sorry, Miss—Miss—” He glanced
again at the car sign. “Miss Maxwell. I was just surprised to see so many cars in my
Carole had apparently been trying to blend in with the bushes. Now she lunged forward
and thrust Brenda’s notebook into her hands. “There’ll be one less in half a minute,” she said.
“Brenda, I’ll be late tomorrow. Got to see Gloria Reynolds.”
“Oh, right. Smooth her feathers, will you?” That was another problem with this
business. Bossy clients who change their minds ten times a day.
“Sure, I’ll hit her with the old Spritzer sparkle. Catch you later.”
Carole got into her pickup, backed onto Jessamine, and took off. For a few moments,
her motor’s acceleration was the only sound. Brenda stared after her as if that car were the
most interesting thing in the whole world. She felt David Hasbrough’s presence, and knew
she had to face him. She looked directly into his face. There it was again. That cuddly-bear
“I didn’t mean to snap at you,” she said. “Forgive me?”
“No problem. I’m sure I deserved it.”
Banging hammers sounded from around the house, then a thump, and another tirade
only that Jacobs person could produce. David Hasbrough’s eyebrows shot up.
“What’s that?” He studied the van’s “Foundation Services” sign a moment and strode
off toward the sound’s source. The tirade died down and the hammering started again.
Brenda hurried after him. “They say he’s the best.”
“Foundation services?” he said over his shoulder. “Who wants ‘foundation
Mystery at Magnolia Mansion
I can't give this less than a 4 Book rating. It
ended up filled with awesome mystery, romance
and excitement. The reader becomes friends
with the characters, hanging on every page
turn, wanting to know what will happen next. I am
glad that I gave thts books a go and am looking
forward to more of this kind of book by this
talented author! If you love sweet romance,
mixed with tender characters and lots of
mystery, then you will enjoy Mr. McNair's
|A surprisingly enjoyable mystery!
Reviews by Molly