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ANNIE'S SECRETS OF THE QUILT MYSTERIES
When Sofia Parker volunteered to use her artistic talents to help create props for her son’s school play, she didn’t expect to find herself in the middle of a mystery. But that’s exactly what happens when someone tries to sabotage the production, and things take a dangerous turn for the star of the show. The play’s tyrannical director is of little help getting the bottom of it all, refusing to see what is really happening and alienating everyone with an overbearing attitude fit for a queen.
At the same time, Sofia is busy researching the second square in her family’s prized heirloom quilt. According to the accompanying diary, Cerise Bélanger served in the court of Marie Antoinette and one of the pieces in Sofia’s quilt was stitched by her for the Queen herself in 1789. And like Sofia, Cerise finds herself in the middle of a mystery . . . and murder. She must stay out of harm’s way, remain in the Queen’s favor, fulfil her father’s dying wishes and somehow remain true to her own heart. Will Cerise’s story inspire in Sofia the courage to deal with the tyranny in her own life?
Cabot Falls, Vermont, Present Day
“Due. Cerise Bélanger, Reggia di Versailles, Versailles, Francia.”
Sofia Parker looked up from the red-leather diary cradled in her hands, the twinkling lights from the Christmas tree adding to the glow in her hazel eyes. The little book, written in Italian over a hundred years ago, was filled with stories from her family’s past, and for each story, there was a piece of fabric with a history. Those bits of cloth had been sewn together and made into a quilt. The quilt and the diary had been passed down to Sofia from Nonna, her grandmother, only a short time ago. Nonna had trusted Sofia to care for them, to preserve not only the delicate fabrics but the threads of family history that would otherwise be lost.
Sofia was careful not to hold the book too tightly, knowing it wouldn't take much to damage the timeworn binding and fragile pages, but she couldn't keep her excitement from showing on her face. Reggia di Versailles. Could this be–—
Julie Butler tapped one perfectly manicured fingernail on the rim of her wine glass, her reddish eyebrows raised. “You know neither of us has a clue what that means.”
Beside her, Marla Dixon nodded. “Mind translating? I didn't understand a word.”
Sofia couldn't help sharing this latest story with her two friends, even though they were officially here to paint. The three of them, though they did call themselves the Pinot Painters, typically did more talking than painting anyway.
“Sorry. It's the story about the second square in the quilt.”
She checked the hand-drawn diagram on the diary's first page. Above the top left-hand corner of the central square, a square marked with a faded number one, was another square, smaller and a little longer than it was wide. This square was number two.
“Reggia di Versailles,” she added, “means the Palace of Versailles.”
Marla's blue eyes widened. “Do you think this one has to do with French royalty?”
“Oooh,” Julie said. “I hope so.”
“We won't know until we read it.” Sofia set the book aside, knelt before the cassone, the intricately carved Italian wedding trunk that housed both the diary and the quilt, and lifted the lid. “I think we can see this square without taking out the quilt.”
Careful to touch only the muslin that protected it, Sofia turned back one corner of the quilt. The three women scarcely breathed as the twinkling light fell on the carefully preserved fabrics pieced together there. Soft greens, shimmering blues, fiery reds and yellows, deep blacks, rich browns, all dimmed with time but still vibrant. Sofia always marveled at the age of these pieces, some of them reported to be over five hundred years old. And each of them had some connection to someone famous. What was square number two's connection to the Palace of Versailles?
“This one, I think.” Sofia pointed to a square of silver silk embroidered with a multitude of golden fleur-de-lis. “It has to be.”
Julie leaned closer, squinting the slightest bit. “How in the world did they get those stitches so tiny?”
“I think that thread is actually made of gold,” Marla breathed. “That piece of fabric sure didn't come from an old dishrag.”
With a laugh, Sofia settled the quilt back into place and closed the trunk. “Well, I haven't read the story yet, but I do have my suspicions about who this Cerise Bélanger might be.”
“Don't tell us you're related to French royalty,” Julie said, her emerald eyes twinkling.
Sofia settled into her green and ivory striped armchair and picked up the diary again. “Not royalty. Not that I know of. But all my life I've heard that somewhere in our family tree there was a French countess who lost everything in the revolution and ended up as a penniless refugee in England. I never heard anything else about her, not even her name, but I can't help wondering if this might be her story.”
“If she was at Versailles during the French Revolution,” Marla mused, “do you think that piece of fabric might have come from one of Marie Antoinette's gowns? That would be . . . amazing.”
Julie nodded. “She had to have known the queen anyway, living at the palace and everything. So what does it say about her?”
Sofia opened the little book once more and turned the yellowed pages until she was back at the beginning of the second story.
Due. Cerise Bélanger, Reggia di Versailles, Versailles, Francia.
She struggled with somesome of the words, but she was sure she was getting most of it right. . Cerise was the daughter of Jean-Paul Bélanger, Viscount Proulx, sent to the court of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette to find herself a husband.
Julie chuckled. “I guess it's always good to have a plan.”
“According to this, Cerise was an only child,” Sofia said. “And being female, she couldn't inherit her father's title and property.”
“It would have all gone to her father's closest male relative.” Marla frowned, thinking. “If I remember right, anyway.”
“Exactly,” Julie said. “So off she goes to try to marry well.”
“But she must have,” Sofia said. “If she ended up being a countess as I've always heard. I suppose—”
The mantle clock began to strike, and Julie glanced at her watch. “I'd love to hear more, but I have to get going. I have an early meeting in the morning.”
“I had no idea it was so late,” Marla said.. , and “I'd better get a good night's sleep, so I don't look too scary for my blind date.,.” Marla said.
Julie grinned at her Sofia. “Oh, the dreaded blind date.”
“I'm not sure I'm ready for this,” Marla admitted with a sigh. “I mean, at my age–”
“At your age?” Sofia chuckled. “You're forty-eight. You make it sound like you're pushing a hundred. You go and enjoy yourself. It's way past time, and Ryan would have told you the same thing.”
Marla nodded, looking down, and then she gave Sofia a wry smile. “You're right. He would have.” She ate the last bite of Sofia's homemade tiramisu left on her plate. “Anyway, it was delicious as always, Sofia. And you'll have to let us know what else you find out about your countess. If I know you, you'll stay up all night trying to translate.”
Sofia stood up. “Not tonight, I'm afraid. I have an early meeting, too.”
Marla and Julie also stood.
“Is that about the play?” Marla asked as she began gathering plates and glasses. “I didn't think that was till next week.”
“Tomorrow,” Sofia assured her, as she and Julie finished cleaning up. “Next week, both of my sisters and their families are coming to stay for Christmas. Tomorrow’s the play. I've already met with the teacher about how she wants the sets to look and about what needs to be done when. She's got one of the boys' mother directing the thing. I'm supposed to meet her tomorrow.”
Soon the room was tidy, and Marla and Julie had all their painting supplies packed up.
“Sorry we didn't actually get to paint,” Sofia said.
Julie laughed. “You'll have plenty of painting to do once you get to work on those sets.”
“Let us know if we can help,” Marla added. “And let us know what else you find out about your countess, okay?”
“Don't worry,” Sofia said as she opened the front door to let them out into the frosty night. “I'll tell you all about it.”
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