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Cider Brook: A Swift River Valley Novel

Samantha Bennett slipped her grandfather’s antique silver flask into an outer pocket of her khaki safari jacket. He’d claimed the flask was from an old pirate chest, but she’d discovered in the three years since his death at ninety-six that not everything he’d told her had been factual. Harry Bennett had been a grand spinner of the strategic tall tale. He’d probably been drinking rum from the flask when he’d spun the pirate-chest story.

No rum for me, Samantha thought, glancing around her grandfather’s cluttered office on the second floor of the Bennett house in Boston’s Back Bay. She’d filled the flask with the smoky Scotch he had left in one of his crystal decanters. If she was going to hunt pirate’s treasure, she figured she ought to have whiskey with her. Although what could go wrong in little Knights Bridge, Massachusetts?

Her grandfather smiled at her from a framed black-and-white photograph hanging on the wood-paneled wall behind his massive oak desk. At the time of the photo he’d been forty-seven, roguishly handsome, wearing a jacket much like hers. He’d just arrived back in Boston after the Antarctic trip that had sealed his reputation as a world-class explorer and adventurer. It had almost killed him, too. Her couple of nights’ camping in an out-of-the-way New England town hardly compared to an expedition to Antarctica.

She buttoned the flap of her jacket pocket. There were endless pockets inside and out. She was already forgetting where she’d put things—her phone, compass, matches, map, the earth-tone lipstick she’d grabbed at the last second, in case she went out to dinner one night during her stay in Knights Bridge.

Out to dinner? Where, with whom—and why?

If nothing else, a few days away from her grandfather’s clutter would do her good. He had been born on a struggling New England farm and had died a wealthy man, if also a hopeless pack rat. Samantha hadn’t realized just how much he’d collected in his long, active life until she’d been hired by his estate—meaning her father and her uncle—to go through his house and his London apartment. She swore she’d found gum wrappers from 1952. The man had saved everything.

The morning sun streamed through translucent panels that hung over bowfront windows framed by heavy charcoal velvet drapes. Her grandmother, who had died twenty-five years ago, when Samantha was four, had decorated the entire house herself, decreeing that gray and white were the perfect colors for this room, for when her husband was there, being contemplative and studious—which wasn’t often, even in his later years. He’d spent little time in his office, mostly just long enough to stack up his latest finds.

Samantha appreciated the effect of the filtered sunlight on the original oil painting that she’d unearthed from the office closet a few weeks ago. The painting was unsigned and clearly an amateur work, but it had captivated her from the moment she’d taken it out into the light. It depicted an idyllic red-painted New England cider mill, with apples in wooden crates, barrels of cider and a water wheel capturing the runoff from a small stone-and-earth dam on a woodland stream. She’d assumed it was untitled but two days ago had discovered neat, faded handwriting on the lower edge of the simple wood frame.

The Mill at Cider Brook.

Her surprise had been so complete that she’d dipped into the Scotch decanter.

She didn’t know if the mill depicted in the painting was real, but there was a Cider Brook in Knights Bridge, barely two hours west of Boston.

Of all places.

A quick internet search had produced a year-old notice that the town of Knights Bridge was selling an old cider mill in its possession. Had someone bought it? Was it still for sale?
Samantha had checked the closet for anything else her grandfather might have stuffed in there related to Cider Brook.

Instead, she discovered a legal-size envelope containing about fifty yellowed, handwritten pages—the rough draft of a story called The Adventures of Captain Farraday and Lady Elizabeth.

She suspected but had no way to prove that the story was by the same hand as the painting, but it didn’t matter. It had sealed the deal, and now she had Harry Bennett’s antique silver flask tucked in her jacket and her plans made for her return to Knights Bridge—a town she had expected, and hoped, she would never have to visit again.

Plans more or less made, anyway. Samantha had no illusions about herself and knew she wasn’t much on detailed planning.
Her first visit to the little town had been two and a half years ago, on a snowy March day a few months after her grandfather’s death. She had expected to slip in and out of town without anyone’s knowledge, but it hadn’t worked out that way.

“A carpenter told me he saw a woman out here. You, Samantha?”

Yes. Her.

The carpenter had been her undoing. She didn’t know who he was, but it didn’t matter. She would be more careful on this trip, even if careful wasn’t a Bennett trait.

This was her chance to put things right.

Copyright © 2014 by Carla Neggers.

Cider Brook: A Swift River Valley Novel
by by Carla Neggers