The Way of the Guilty: A Hope Street Church Mystery - By Jennifer Stanley


The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones.

Esther 1:6 (NIV)

If Cooper Lee had known she would spend Friday night chugging champagne at an unfamiliar woman’s mansion while a trio of busty coeds modeled lingerie, she would have come up with any number of creative excuses in order to avoid the whole thing. Unfortunately, Cooper had completely misunderstood her sister’s invitation to accompany her to “a pajama party” being hosted by one of her church friends.

“Georgia Ferguson has such a gorgeous house! Wait ’til you see it!” Cooper’s sister Ashley had shouted over the roar of Cooper’s power sander the weekend before the infamous fete. “Can you turn that damned thing off for a second?”

After gently putting down the tool, Cooper slid her safety goggles onto the crown of her head, picked up a piece of sandpaper, and began working on the rough areas on a chapel-shaped birdhouse. “And why exactly should I be interested in Georgia Ferguson’s house?” she asked her sister while gently stroking the wood smooth. “I don’t even know this woman.”

Stopping Cooper’s hand with her own, Ashley announced, “Because I’m going to a party there next weekend and you’re coming with me.”

Imagining a room populated by Ashley’s worldly acquaintances, Cooper grimaced. “In case you’ve forgotten, I repair office equipment for a living.” She rubbed the tip of the steeple gently with a folded scrap of sandpaper. “Why would I want to go to Georgia’s party? These are your church friends. I’ve got my own,” she added happily.

Ashley drummed her fingers against the workbench and Cooper couldn’t help but admire her sister’s pristine French manicure. “You’re going to this party because you’re a mature, confident woman. That’s just the kind of woman I need by my side to help me select an array of fabulous new night things with which I can seduce my husband.”

Cooper’s neck flushed as it always did when she was embarrassed. “I am well aware that you’re trying to get pregnant, but I’d rather not have to hear too many details, okay? Some things are meant to be kept private.”

“Some things? You can’t even say the word!” Ashley giggled. “Go on, I dare you. Say ‘sex.’ Say it! Sex, sex, sex!”

“You talk about it enough for both of us, thanks very much,” Cooper retorted. “I’m going to start calling you Dr. Ruth.” She playfully elbowed her sister out of the way and reached for the power sander. Removing her safety glasses from the top of her wheat-blonde hair, she stared at Ashley with her intriguing, mismatched eyes. “Is that all? I’d like to get back to this.”

“Don’t you give me that blue-eyed, green-eyed glower,” Ashley commanded and then began to push sawdust scraps around with her finger, forming the outline of a wobbly heart on the surface of the table. “The truth is that I could use Dr. Ruth’s advice these days. Listen to me, Coop. I need to go to this party. I’m looking for a way to knock Lincoln’s socks off. To make him sit up and take notice of me like he used to.”

“Are you two having difficulties again?” Cooper looked at her sister with concern though she couldn’t comprehend how a party could change how Ashley and her husband felt about one another. “Over the baby issue?”

Looking miserable, Ashley marred the sawdust heart with a sweep of her hand. “I think Lincoln’s avoiding me. For the last few months he’s been going to all these late meetings. Then there’s the golf outings with his daddy and brother every weekend—not to mention the poker nights.” Tears pooled in her lovely azure eyes. “I feel like I’m losing him.”

Pulling off her gloves, Cooper put her arm around her sister’s tiny waist and squeezed. “He loves you, Ashley. He’d be crazy not to.”

Ashley sighed. “Love is hard work, isn’t it? Harder than I ever thought it would be. I had my dream wedding, Lincoln carried me over the threshold of our perfect house, and for a while, everything was wonderful. A fairy tale. But then I was supposed to get pregnant and grow all round and cute and waddle and have that glow. I’d deliver the most precious beautiful little baby this world has ever seen and give it like five names and dress its precious little body in