She was the worst mother in the whole world.
“My whole life is changing, and how did this child get cereal in his ear?” Nora Tierney cradled her mobile phone against her ear as she spoke to her Oxford friend, Val Rogan. She held her infant son close to her chest to soothe his grizzling while she smoothed Sean’s shiny-penny hair, lighter than her own. Nora frowned at the bit of dried cereal mashed into his ear and the spit-up on the front of his sleeper. His nursery in an alcove off her room in Ramsey Lodge seemed to have shrunk in on both of them today.
“I gather that’s your usual disjointed rhetorical question,” Val said, “but you said you skipped his bath last night. Easily explained: baby rice from mouth to hand to ear. And I know you haven’t had sex in a while, but why is seeing the delicious Declan going to change your life?”
“You know I don’t take these … interludes lightly. It’s important. And don’t call Declan that or it’ll become a nickname and stick.”
Nora stole a glance at the Peter Rabbit clock over Sean’s changing table. “It’s not just Declan, it’s the theatre troupe, too.”
“I think their play has already been cast, Nora.”
“I heard that stifled laugh. You never know what can happen. I did play Elvira in college.”
“Did you know whining brings out your American accent? Why is my godson so fractious?”
“He’s been fine on formula for two weeks, but last night he wouldn’t settle and he woke very early. I thought he’d take an early nap—I should be helping in the lodge.” The rice cereal won out. Nora put the phone on speaker, undressed the baby and walked with the phone into the bathroom, reveling in the feel of Sean’s soft, downy skin against her own as he grabbed a hunk of her hair. Such unconditional love for this small, squirming child who could frustrate her one minute, then reduce her to jelly with his joyful smile the next.
“Maybe you need to change his formula?” Val’s voice echoed from the mobile.
“I’ll call the health visitor if it keeps up. There’s no change in his bowel—”
“Stop right there. I’ve no need to hear about his dirty nappies or their contents.”
Nora laughed. “Some godmother. Wait till your world is filled with nappies and feeding schedules.” Nora ran warm water in the sink, wet a washcloth and sat Sean in the sink for an abbreviated bath. She cleaned off the cereal as she talked and the baby wiggled. She washed his hands and nappy area for good measure. “If I didn’t have my writing and this play to look forward to, I’d go barmy. The parenting websites say he should be past the colic stage by now.” She wrapped Sean in a towel and walked back to his changing table.
“You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet. He’s not quite six months old, Nora. Give the little bugger a break. New book done?”
“Thankfully. Simon’s working on the illustrations. I get a break from writing, although I’m waiting to hear about a freelance assignment the end of next week.” Nora dried Sean off and dressed him, pausing to kiss his rounded belly. The baby giggled his pleasure. “I’m excited for this theatre troupe to arrive. I read the woman playing Madame Arcati is a real character, and Blithe Spirit is my favorite Noel Coward play.” She paused, lost in memory.
“Your acting past explains why you’re such an accomplished liar.”
“Unfair.” But perhaps true. “I haven’t seen the director, Grayson Lange, since I interviewed him for People and Places.”
“I’m sure you can give him pointers.” Val yawned. “This place is boring me today. Remind me why I wanted to start an artists’ cooperative?”
“Because you’re a talented textile artist and like to keep busy.”
“All true. Noel Coward? Is that the one with the exes honeymooning in the same place?”
“No, that’s Private Lives. In this one, writer Charles Condomine has a medium—that’s the Madame Arcati role—perform a séance as research for his new novel. She unwittingly calls up the ghost of his first wife—that’s the Elvira part—to the chagrin of his new wife, Ruth,” Nora explained. “Never seen the movie with Rex Harrison?”
“No. You played a ghost? What fun. I’d pay to see that.”
“It’s all done with one set, perfect to perform in a small space like Ramsey Lodge. Great marketing for Simon, too. He’s keen on the whole project.”
“But that’s not the entire reason you’ve got your knickers in a twist. When’s Declan due to appear?”
“Not till tomorrow. I can’t wait for that, either,” Nora admitted. “Although it’s not all about the sex.”
“Yankee, it’s always about sex,” Val proclaimed.
You can read more about Nora in The Scarlet Wench, the third book in the “Nora Tierney” mystery series, published by Bridle Path Press. The first book in the series is The Blue Virgin. Books are available at retail and online booksellers.
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Meet the author
Marni Graff is the author of the Nora Tierney mystery series, set in the UK. The Blue Virgin introduces Nora, an American writer living in Oxford. She becomes involved in a murder investigation to clear her best friend as a suspect, to the chagrin of DI Declan Barnes. The Green Remains follows Nora’s move to Cumbria where she’s awaiting the publication of her first children’s book and the birth of her first child. When Nora stumbles across the corpse at the edge of Lake Windermere, she realizes she recognizes the dead man. Then her friend and illustrator, Simon Ramsey, is implicated in the murder of the heir to Clarendon Hall, and Nora swings into sleuth mode. The Scarlet Wench finds Nora once again involved in an investigation when a theatre troupe arrives at Ramsey Lodge and a series of pranks and accidents escalate to murder.
Graff is also co-author of Writing in a Changing World, a primer on writing groups and critique techniques. She writes crime book reviews at www.auntiemwrites.com and is Managing Editor of Bridle Path Press. A member of Sisters in Crime, Graff runs the NC Writers Read program in Belhaven. She has also published poetry, last seen in Amelia Earhart: A Tribute; her creative nonfiction has most recently appeared in Southern Writers Magazine. All of Graff’s books can be bought at Amazon.com or at bridlepathpress.com and are available as eBooks.
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