Preview of Heritage of Darkness: Chloe Ellefson Mystery #4
Written by Kathleen Ernst
Published by Midnight Ink Books
Although she tried to hide it from Mom and Roelke, Chloe Ellefson’s emotional distress inflated with each passing mile. Distress descended into panic by the time they left Wisconsin. She exercised driver’s prerogative and pulled into the first Iowa gas station she saw. “Pit stop,” she announced.
“I need to powder my nose,” Mom said. “Roelke, would you fill the tank?”
He already had the car door open. “I’d be glad to.”
Chloe got out and leaned against the Buick, hunching turtle-like into her coat. The December wind whipping off the Mississippi River was wicked.
Roelke set the pump and began washing the windshield. “You OK?”
“I’m having second thoughts,” Chloe admitted. “This little adventure in family bonding was ill-conceived.”
“This little adventure was your idea,” he reminded her. “Do you think it’s too late to bail? Maybe Mom could take a cab the rest of the way to Decorah.”
“Since we’re driving your mother’s car, that doesn’t seem quite fair.” Roelke returned the squeegee to its tank. “Stop stressing. Everything will be fine.”
“Easy for you to say.” Chloe had officially been dating Roelke McKenna for three months, but he had yet to spend any real time with her mother. “You have no idea what you’ve gotten into.”
“It’s going to be a fun week.”
Even at her most optimistic, the notion of “fun” had not crossed Chloe’s mind.
Roelke put his hands on her shoulders. His cheeks were red from the cold, which was a good look for him. He was younger than she was, and had that cop-persona going for him too: dark hair clipped short, broad shoulders, intense gaze.
That gaze was now focused on Chloe. “Hey. You said you wanted to spend time with your mom on her terms. Get to know her better.”
“I do, truly.” Chloe sighed. She and her mother had drifted along in a superficial Everything’s fine mode for years. Then, after a solitary visit to a largely-deserted island back in September, Chloe had vowed to strengthen her family ties.
While visiting her parents, she’d spotted a flyer from Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, announcing simultaneous Beginning Telemark and Advanced Hallingdal Rosemaling classes. “Hey, Mom,” Chloe had said. “How about we sign up for these? Beginning for me, Advanced for you.” Chloe fully expected the beginners’ workshop to end with public humiliation…but for one brief shining moment, it had seemed like a good idea.
She had also fully expected enthusiasm from Mom. Instead, Mom’s eyebrows had arched high. “You want to take a rosemaling class? You’ve never wanted anything to do with my little hobby.”
Chloe already regretted her impulse. “Well, I thought it would be nice to try it now.”
“I suppose we can do that,” Mom had conceded skeptically. “If you’re sure.”
Now Chloe said, “It’s the Vesterheim part that’s going to bite me in the butt.” Chloe watched an old pickup truck rattle by. “There’s no way I can live up to the expectations of Marit ‘All-Things-Norske’ Kallerud this week.”
Roelke cocked his head. “Why do you say that?”
“My mother has a Gold Medal in rosemaling,” Chloe reminded him. “She wanted me to paint when I was in high school. I didn’t, and she’s never forgiven me for it.”
“That was a long time ago. I wish…” His voice trailed away, and he shrugged.
Roelke’s parents were dead, so Chloe could easily imagine what he wished. She felt guilty for complaining. A little.
Mom strolled back across the lot. “Roelke, would you drive the rest of the way to Decorah?”
“Glad to,” he said again. Chloe crawled into the back seat. Once they were entombed in the car again, Roelke headed west.
“I can hardly believe it,” Mom said. “But here we are, heading off to Decorah!”
“Yes!” Chloe said brightly.
“I’ve always wanted to share the Vesterheim experience with Chloe,” Mom told Roelke, “but she’s never shown any interest.”
“Actually, I have been to Vesterheim before,” Chloe reminded her mother. “Several times.” Mom leaned closer to Roelke and confided, “The last time Chloe came was when I earned my Gold Medal. Nineteen seventy-two. A decade ago.”
Chloe looked out the window. “I spent a decade away from the Midwest, remember? Including five years in Europe? That made it a tad challenging to pop over to Iowa.”
Mom ignored her. “Roelke, I’m delighted you wanted to join us. December is a perfect time to visit the museum.”
Am I speaking Swiss? Chloe wondered. Perhaps she’d lapsed, and everyone was too polite to mention it.
“After our week of classes,” Mom continued, “we’ll enjoy the Norwegian Christmas Weekend. She sighed happily. “It’s my favorite special event.”
“I love Christmas,” Roelke assured her.
Chloe was pretty sure that Roelke, who might euphemistically be described as “tightly-wound,” hadn’t used the words “love” and “Christmas” in the same sentence since he was seven.
“I’m looking forward to my carving class.” Roelke sounded genuinely pleased. “I like to whittle, but I’m pretty much self-taught.”
“This week will be an epiphany for you,” Mom promised. “The Norwegians have such a strong woodworking tradition. My favorite pieces are the wooden mangles once used to press linens. Traditionally, a man carved a special mangle for the woman he hoped to marry, and left the mangle on her doorstep. If she took it inside, it meant she accepted his proposal. Once a woman had declined a proposal gift, it couldn’t be offered to anyone else. Mothers used to tell their daughters to ‘Beware the man with many mangles.’” She laughed. “My husband used to tease that he had hedged his bets by carving several at once, but I know the one he made to propose to me was his one and only.”
Chloe winced. She tried sending Mom a mental message: Please nix the talk of betrothal gifts.
“Men also carved love spoons,” Mom continued. “For their special girl.”
Chloe used one foot to nudge the seat in front of her. She and Roelke had been getting along pretty well, but they hadn’t yet been…intimate. She tried harder on the mental message thing: Please, please quit the matrimony talk.
“And if the couple married, the groom carved two spoons linked by a chain.” Mom clasped her hands together joyfully.
Chloe clenched her teeth. Perhaps she should just say Mom, Roelke and I haven’t even had sex yet, so give it up!
“Will I be able to see any of those wedding spoons in the museum?” Roelke asked.
“Vesterheim’s collection is incredible,” Mom promised him. “I’m sure you’ll be inspired.”
“I’m sure I will, Ms. Kallerud,” Roelke said earnestly.
“Please, Roelke dear. Call me Marit.”
Chloe unclicked her seatbelt and curled up on the back seat. If Mom starts prattling about baby cradles, she thought, I will leap out the window.
Heritage of Darkness: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery © 2013 by Kathleen Ernst.