Peril & Prayer: A Sister Lou Mystery (written as Olivia Matthews)
A Kensington Publishing release
Cozy mystery
July 2018
ISBN-10: 1496709403
ISBN-13: 978-1496709400
$7.99 U.S., mass market paperback
$5.99 U.S., ebook

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Avoiding deadly habits . . .

How do you solve a problem like Marianna?

This year’s Advent retreat has been booked for the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Hermione of Ephesus at the pastoral Briar Coast Cabin Resorts in New York. But when the combative Sister Marianna practically loses her religion arguing over minor details with resort co-owner Autumn Tassler, Sister Louise “Lou” LaSalle blessedly steps in as peacemaker.

Only days later, Autumn is found strangled in her office and hot-headed Sister Marianna becomes the sheriff’s deputies’ prime suspect. They believe her missing scarf may be the murder weapon, but Sister Lou believes Sister Marianna’s being framed. If she has a prayer of keeping Sister Marianna out of prison, she’ll need to once again put her faith in her nephew, Chris LaSalle, and reporter Shari Henson to help her solve the case. As the trio tries to cross suspects off the list, Sister Lou has no choice but to stick her neck out – if she’s going to unveil who was desperate enough to resort to murder …

Excerpt

Peril & Prayer: A Sister Lou Mystery

“What I really want to know is how was the meeting with the resort owner and Marianna?”

Memories of that traumatic session took some of the spring from Sister Lou’s steps. “It was about what you’d imagine.”

Sister Carmen grimaced. “That bad?”

Sister Lou didn’t need to elaborate. Everyone knew how confrontational Sister Marianna could be. Some people loved chocolate. Others enjoyed pasta. Sister Marianna lived to argue.

Sister Lou and Sister Carmen finished their first loop around the residence halls, then turned toward the college’s oval. Federal-style, redbrick academic buildings and stately old trees flanked the well-manicured lawns and pedestrian pathways in the heart of the almost 160-acre campus. A handful of joggers and a few walkers—mostly students, but some faculty and staff—also braved the predawn chill to exercise.

Sister Lou wiped the sweat from her upper lip with the back of her wrist. “She disagreed with the resort owner’s suggestion to include a few popular menu choices with the healthy meals she’d ordered.”

Sister Carmen grunted. “If her grocery list for the retreat is like the meals she’s been ordering for the motherhouse, the event will not go over well.”

“I know.” Sister Lou sighed. “IT’s helping me put together an online survey for the congregation to select their meal preferences.”

“Good idea.” Sister Carmen nodded. “You may not want to show Marianna the final results, though. Her feelings could be hurt.”

“It’s no secret that Marianna and I don’t see eye to eye.” Sister Lou waved at familiar faces along their path. She’d heard that the college community referred to her and Sister Carmen as the Running Sisters. Students in particular always seemed excited to see them. “I don’t understand why Barbara’s so adamant that I help Marianna with the retreat planning.”

“I do.” Sister Carmen smiled and waved at the joggers and walkers she recognized. She had the air of a rock star.

“Care to share your insight?”

“You’re the only one who challenges Marianna.”

Sister Lou almost stumbled in surprise at Sister Carmen’s pronouncement. Her jogging partner caught her arm to steady her. “No, I’m not. Marianna argues with someone every day.”

“You’re wrong.” Sister Carmen’s two favorite words. Scratch that; her two favorite words were I’m right. “Most people give in to Marianna. Some people, like me, ignore her. But you stand up to her.”

“It’s not only me. Most of the sisters openly supported Maurice’s invitation to be our keynote speaker for the Saint Hermione presentation.” Sister Lou recalled the most recent—and most devastating—example of people disagreeing with Sister Marianna.

Sister Lou had invited her longtime friend and noted theologian, Dr. Maurice Jordan, to be the congregation’s guest speaker for its St. Hermione of Ephesus Feast Day presentation this past August. Sister Marianna’s objections had been immediate, persistent, and loud. She’d considered Maurice’s perspectives too controversial. For that reason, she hadn’t wanted the congregation to associate with the theologian.

Much to Sister Marianna’s consternation, the overwhelming majority of congregation members had supported Sister Lou’s recommendation to invite Maurice. Tragically, her friend had been murdered the morning of his presentation. Sister Lou had found his body.

Sister Carmen was quiet as though she also was remembering that sad event. “We were all happy to help with the event, leaving you in Marianna’s crosshairs.”

“Perhaps I should have listened to Marianna. Perhaps if I had, Mo would be alive today.”

“Stop it.” Sister Carmen was firm if a bit breathless. “The person who murdered Maurice is responsible for his death. Your invitation had nothing to do with it.”

Maybe not, but Sister Lou still hadn’t come to terms with the regrettable connection. She returned to her more immediate dilemma as a distraction. “Marianna’s penchant for arguing is going to be a problem with this retreat. She doesn’t believe in compromise, and she thinks I compromise too much.”

“Everyone knows Marianna’s difficult to work with. She’s stubborn. If there’s a way to make it easier, no one’s figured it out yet.”

The sun continued to rise as they finished their third lap around the oval. Sister Lou jogged beside Sister Carmen as they followed other runners and walkers onto the path that led to the center of town. Their destination was the path’s two-mile marker. At that point, they’d return to the college and retrace their steps. The scents of earth and foliage surrounded them on the trail. The towering trees were dazzling with autumn colors. Tangles of ground cover grew along the well-worn path, shadowing the silver lampposts the town council had installed.

Sister Lou interrupted their companionable silence. “How am I supposed to work with her?” Did anyone on earth have an answer to that question?

“You can handle her. You came up with the survey idea.”

“I wanted to end the arguing.” Sister Lou shook her head. “She treats everything like a conflict. How do I help her to see that it’s not?”

“I don’t think Barb meant for you to change Marianna’s style. That would take a Christmas miracle. Maybe you can work on that for Lent.”

Sister Lou chuckled as Sister Carmen obviously meant for her to. “All right. I’ll pace myself with her.”

Sister Carmen chuckled. “Barb’s going to owe you a pretty spectacular Christmas gift.”

Sister Lou shook her head with a smile. “Working with Marianna is ruining my Christmas spirit.”