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Chapter Seven - Avoidance from Sib #5


Introducing Eva Grace from Book 6
by Betty Thomason Owens


“Oh, good heavens.” Eva Grace clicked the off button on her cell phone as her husband entered the room.


Jim sat on the stool at the foot of the bed and untied his shoes. “Who’s calling so late?”


“Kimberly.” Eva Grace puffed out a sigh.


“Your sister?” Jim rose and stepped toward the closet. “I’m listening.”


“Connie called her, all upset about the foundation.”


Jim turned back and stood in the doorway a moment, looking at her. “Connie? Didn’t she just graduate from college?”


“She’s back home now and snooping around. She thinks something is off with the books.” Eva Grace rearranged the blankets. “As if Mama and Dad would ever let that happen.”


Jim disappeared again.


Running water told Eva Grace he had started his nightly routine. She picked up her abandoned novel and turned a page, but it didn’t hold her attention. “Kimberly said Connie doesn’t like the new accountant. She told Kimberly he was snooty. Or was it snotty?”


Jim shut off the water. “You don’t think she’s right about the books, then?”


“Of course not, and neither does Kimberly. I think she’s just being a brat again. She asked for something. The accountant refused. That rankled her.”


Jim flipped the light switch and headed for his side of the bed. “Well, it’ll all iron out. Could be a misunderstanding. But, if Connie has concerns, I’ll be happy to talk to her. Why don’t you call her in the morning—find out for yourself what’s going on.”


Eva Grace curled her lip in mock disgust. “Maybe I will.” After she talked to Mama and Dad. And maybe Polly.


Jim leaned in for a goodnight kiss. “You should. Now, let it go and get a good night’s sleep. Sweet dreams, hon.”


Eva Grace glowered at his sleeping form. How did he do that? After another failed attempt to concentrate on the novel, she closed it, laid the book on the bedside table, and then turned off the lamp. She settled in and stared at the ceiling. Ugh. Why did Kimberly have to call tonight? It wasn’t that important—it could have waited until morning.


***


Jim’s alarm beeped. Five-thirty. Eva Grace’s eyelids creaked open. She dragged her sluggish body out of bed, slipped her toes into her fluffy, pink mules, and shrugged into her housecoat. As she headed down the stairs, the coffee maker gave a final sputter. Thank you, Lord, for automatic coffeemakers.


By the time her husband joined her in the kitchen, Eva Grace had his breakfast ready and his newspaper waiting. Two eggs over easy, three links of maple-flavored sausage, and a slice of buttered toast. The usual.


He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Good morning, sweetheart. Thanks for breakfast.”


While he ate and read, she watered her houseplants and mentally planned her day. Call Mama and Dad. Or maybe she should call Polly first. She bent over an African violet, testing the soil. She straightened and glanced out the window. Maybe she wouldn’t call anyone.


That settled, she returned to the kitchen in time to wish Jim a good day before he left for work. On the way out the door, he paused. “Don’t forget to call Connie. Tell her I’ll be happy to talk to her if she needs advice.”


Right. She smiled and nodded. “Sure.” Now, she felt obligated. But Chicago was on the central time zone, so she had at least an hour or so before making the call. Happy thought. Throughout the morning, she procrastinated, pushing aside pangs of conscience as she struggled to get Samantha dressed and ready for her riding lesson. They were halfway to Briarbeck Farm when her phone buzzed.


Samantha raised her head from the book she’d been devouring for the last two days. “Mom, your phone’s ringing.”


“It will keep. I’m driving.”


She reached inside my purse. “Oh, hey, it’s Aunt Polly. Want me to answer it?”


“No, I don’t—” she sucked in a breath as her daughter grinned and punched the green button. “Samantha Jean Carr,” she hissed at her daughter.


“Hi, Aunt Polly. How are you?”


Dear Lord, give me strength. Biting back angry words, Eva Grace pulled into the drive at the horse farm and did her best not to floor it, scatter gravel, and frighten horses.


Samantha clicked her seatbelt open. “I’m fine. Having a horse-riding lesson. Here’s Mom.” Samantha held the phone out with a final grin before leaving the vehicle.


After a deep, cleansing breath, Eva Grace put the phone to her ear. “Good morning, Polly, dear.”


“Do I detect a note of sarcasm? Have I caught you before coffee?”


“Hahaha. Aren’t you funny. I suppose you’ve heard from Kimberly?”


Polly exhaled. “Yes, so I called Connie. Not that I don’t trust Kimberly, but you know how emotional she gets. Anyway, Connie thinks the new accountant, Clint Rutherford, has something shady going on. Can you believe that?”


“Embezzlement?”


“She didn’t actually use the word, but it had all the earmarks.”


Eva Grace shook her head. “I have difficulty believing anyone could put something over on Mama and Dad.” Both were astute in business. They had built the Wright Foundation from the ground up.


“Eva, you know how tired they are. It is possible something is going on.”


“Well, Jim said he’ll talk to Connie. Maybe he can help.” Her stomach cramped at the thought. She loved her baby sister, but Connie could be such a . . .


“Mama!”


She looked up as Samantha jogged her way.


“Gotta go, Polly. Samantha needs me.”


A reprieve. Eva Grace did not want to think anymore about the Wright Foundation or what’s-his-name who may or may not have pilfered money.


***


Connie’s call came just after Jim walked in after work that evening. Eva Grace had expected the call but had half-hoped it wouldn’t happen. And she barely had time to exchange niceties with her sister when Jim joined her in the kitchen.


“Oh, Connie, here’s Jim. Why don’t you tell him what’s going on?”


Before her sister had a chance to respond, Eva Grace passed the phone to her husband.


He switched it to intercom. “Hello, Connie, you’re on speaker so we can keep your sister in the loop. What’s this I hear about funds missing?”


“Hello, Jim. Great to hear your voice. No missing funds, as far as I know. Clint Rutherford is being high-handed, like he owns the place.”


Eva Grace’s nerves twisted into a bunch. She walked into the Florida room and looked out the window as Connie’s voice droned on.


“I confess, Jim, I told Dad I would keep my nose out of it, but at the very least I can look at the accounts, right?”


Jim stepped through the doorway. “I would, starting with the bank accounts. Your dad is set up on that new online banking program, isn’t he?”


“Yes, I have a password for it myself.”


Jim smiled. “Then, that’s your next step. Do that, and if anything looks off with the bank accounts, find a good outside accounting firm to do the external audit. If you find funds missing or even mis-appropriated, you’ll need a forensic audit.”


“Oh, Jim, thank you so much.”


“Keep me posted, Connie. We’ll be praying—and hey—congratulations on your graduation.”


“Aww, thank you and thanks so much for the prayers. You know I’ll need those. Give Samantha a big hug and kiss from me.”


“I’ll do that.” He ended the call and smiled at Eva Grace. “Well, let’s hope no money is missing. That would be the best-case scenario.” He held out his hand to Eva Grace. “I told her we’d pray. No time like the present.”


***


Why hadn’t Connie gotten on to the fancy website right away?


The next morning, as soon as she’d taken Mama and Dad to the airport for their flight to the event Mama had planned, she made a beeline back to the foundation. Maybe she could catch Clint in his office.


After greeting Mrs. Hodges, this time wearing a purple pant suit with a read bolero belt, Connie made her way to her office and booted her computer.


She stared at the little circle going round and round and reflected on her favorite receptionist.


Maybe Connie needed to adjust her wardrobe a little. All of her business clothes were bland—browns and grays with a few dark blues thrown in. She didn’t own anything red, though she always liked the color.


In fact, she really liked that color. And Mrs. Hodges always made a statement with it.


She sat at her desk and opened the link to their bank, then clicked in the details of her username and password. The notice that she’d used an incorrect password appeared. “For pity’s sake.” She sighed and typed in the details again. This time one key at a time.


Still wrong.


What was up with this? She checked her tab lock and then typed in the password again only to see the error message once more. Had Dad changed the passwords? Probably a good idea, but she needed access. Why wouldn’t he have told her?


Giving in, she put in her email address to request a password update. She’d be sure to let her mom and dad know that they had accidently locked her out. And she would be thoughtful enough to share the new password with them.


Another error message popped up. Her email address wasn’t associated with an account? Since when?


Connie trotted into Dad’s office and opened her dad’s computer. She clicked through the protection and pulled up the bank website. As she expected, her dad’s username and password were already on the login page. She clicked the submit link and received the same error she’d gotten on her own machine.


Something was dreadfully wrong. She checked the password list on her dad’s computer. The password was exactly as she remembered it. But it still didn’t work. And when she tried to change the password, her father’s email address registered as unknown, too.


Now what?


And where was Clint?



Where is Clint?

And why does Connie have such anxiety about him?


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