Mysteries of the Dogwood Diaries
A legacy is left through generations of women who write in the "Dogwood Diaries" translating oral history to the printed word. The loss of one of the women and her diary is the catalyst for the determined family matriarch, Marguerite McKenna to find them, to preserve her family and its legacies.
Blaine Stryker has distinguished herself in investigative reporting and is a Pulitzer Prize nominee when her childhood nemesis, “Her Ladyship, Marguerite McKenna” summons her in a public and not so subtle way.
Having gone underground in her youth, Blaine fights to protect her new identity but is forced to pay an old debt to Marguerite’s granddaughter and the indomitable “Biddy” who once helped save her life. The past unravels in a rapid pace with the involvement of a federal officer, Walker Rhoades ;who is investigating mysterious deaths that lead him to suspect Blaine and Cory Stryker are the key to the case and may be trying to “cash in” on a large inheritance.
Five mysteries will be revealed before Walker Rhoades and Blaine Stryker can reconcile the facts and solve the cases. The humorous and testy relationship between these two characters will lead you on a fast-paced path from New York City, Nashville, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas and into the depths of caves. Prepare to engage with a couple who will introduce you to a new side to romance and suspenseful partnership.
Perhaps the heart of the story is in following the thread of unconditional love and friendship that Cory Stryker brings as his influence is felt in the trust of a rigid Matriarch; the sacrificial relationship with a desperate teen; the role model and example he is to the “by the book” formidable federal agent who is “all Texan”, and to all that come into contact with the “genuine leprechaun of love and faith”. His is a character that will stay with you, even as you fall in love with Walker Rhoades, and champion Blaine Stryker through their conflicts, collaborations and efforts to contain their mounting attractions as “opposites attract”..
Cory Lavine was the inspiration for the setting of this novel, and also for the lead male support character of Cory Stryker. Stryker is a pivotal character giving heart and substance to the novel.
Representing all that is best in "real men" and giving a great representation of his beloved "Gaylord Opryland Resort", Cory's character is able to bring a cohesive and revealing experience to the reader. They literally walk the paths of the fabulous and famous hotel with all it's beauty, secrets, and enticements woven throughout the fabric of 5 mysteries which are solved within the pages of the novel.
The rich diversity of the amazing international staff, and the attention to detail just amp up the expectations as the reader becomes immersed in the facts, knowing the keys and subtle clues to the mysteries become clear as "all roads lead back to the hotel and its characters.
Blaine Stryker stood on the stairway and surveyed the distinguished guests of a corporate event to honor her. She wished her employers had not thought an appreciation dinner necessary, but then she was a commodity. Her Adrenalin was not rushing to gender excitement or anxiety, and she thought possibly it was because she was becoming jaded after four years of New York City’s high society. The marketing benefits of having a Pulitzer Prize nominee on staff had the company bringing out the big public relations guns, just identifying many of the guests, told how elaborate their efforts had been.
The “beautiful people” were present in their usual “over the top” designer clothes, and the “pretty wanna be’s” were plentiful. In this room of over sized flower arrangements, the sounds of a small jazz ensemble soothed her ragged nerves. She hated this part of “celebrity” and could barely fathom that she was in that category. It was actually quite a story in itself, though one no one knew it or ever would.
Finally, rescue was in sight. Entering the room in his usual hurried manner was Cory Stryker and he was making a beeline for her with his wildly infectious smile spread across his charming face. The first time Blaine met him, he had a charm she likened to a leprechaun. His eyes really did twinkle and his genuine charm exuded “magical qualities”. She had been sure of it then, and she was sure of it now. She felt her body stress de-escalate with every step he took toward her. She moved quickly to be encircled by his long arms and acquiesced to be held against his hard chest. Something few men in her lifetime thus far could ever say.
“Am I too late by etiquette standards, or can you squeak me into your swanky affair with full a pardon?” He smiled at Blaine already knowing the answer.
“Plane delay, or New York traffic?” she responded with her usual nonchalant manner when talking with Cory.
“Zipper." I had to rent this tux and when I put it on, the zipper was damaged so I had to repair it right then and there or face humiliating all the men present in this room if my “secret package” was revealed.”
Both parties laughed knowing the banter which sometimes bordered on a little sexual innuendo was their way of keeping people guessing as to their true relationship. With both of them bearing, the last name of Stryker and claiming, tongue in cheek to be “really” distant cousins by marriage, “eight times removed”, they had people wondering. But no one could ever truly know their true connection due to the danger it would bring.
The evening’s master of ceremonies was taking the stage. “Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to this evening’s appreciation dinner in recognition of yet another achievement of our very own, Ms. Blaine Stryker.”
Applause was enthusiastic as Blaine felt her face flush yet again as she nodded to the gathering and wished that would be the end of her participation in the events. She felt Cory’s encircled arm push her forward so she would walk to the stage and take the microphone to give a “proper response”.
She was pleased that she could walk with ease and comfort as the designer gown she wore had been made with insight into her personality and taste. The light lavender silk was tailored into a stylized gown with flowing legs of fabric. Definitely a gown, but with the familiar feel of pant legs reminiscent of those actresses of the Golden Age of fashion in the 30's and 40's. These kinds of events were the only time you did not find her in jeans or pant suit ensembles of some kind.
“Thank you so much for your attendance here tonight.” Blaine turned to smile at a group of attendees at the table for prominent corporate executives who employed her, and gave them a deprecating look. “You could have just given me a bigger raise without the hoopla, you know”.
The laughter was genuine to those who knew her. She was not a “frills kind of girl” and preferred to be out of the limelight. Her career and newest promotion now made that impossible to honor. In the last five years, Blaine distinguished herself in investigative reporting and now was being considered for a Pulitzer Prize. Her expose on” bi-partisan, political pork-barrel fixing” had scalded several political big wigs in the hottest kind of investigative water. Other expose’s in the past were on such diverse topics as “corruption in a state mental health scam using patients”, and another on the “slimy world of human trafficking targeting pre-teen victims”. Tonight she was being honored by her employers with a promotion and dramatic new office space. She now would have her own personal assistant including all the corporate trimmings and benefits.
“I trust Chef Rudy has lived up to our expectations and knowing he doesn’t like to be kept waiting I will close with this thought. I believe my success is a gift. While some say “the Devil made me do it”, I say that for me it was an angel in my life. My angel influenced me to take my childhood overbearing curiosity of “who, what, where and when” and add the “why”. I was given this gift to use and it is why I work rather than play. There is always a story over the next hill, through the next-door, or standing nearby. Thank you all for making it possible for me to live out my life dream doing what makes me happy. Thank you.”
Blaine moved to leave the stage when someone from the executive table called out to her. “Aren’t you going to un-veil your gift?”
Not clear on what gift they meant, she shrugged her shoulders and continued forward. She noted that Cory was pointing over to the left side of the stage area by the jazz ensemble. Looking back over her shoulder, she saw a large art tripod with what appeared to be a veiled frame. A white envelope sat in front on the holding shelf. Dutifully she turned to open the gift knowing it was probably some art piece selected for her office to mark the occasion. Her immediate thoughts were that she hoped it would not be some dreary or dark art piece. She preferred bright, light and definitely not abstract.
As Blaine took hold of the cover over the picture, she had an odd sense as a shiver went up her spine. She was reminded of a childhood saying that when that feeling happened, someone had walked on your grave wherever it was going to be. The room was hushed with anticipation and she noted her hand was actually trembling as she reached for the cover. Inexplicably she hesitated, and then reached for the envelope, which would be knocked to the floor if she removed the cover first. She opened it and read the content. Enclosed on a formal white note card were the words: “To see a hillside white with dogwood bloom is to know a particular ecstasy of beauty. To walk the gray winter woods and finds the buds which will resurrect that beauty in another May, is to partake of continuity.” (Hal Borland) It is time, once again, to see the resurrected Dogwood trees.
The mention of Dogwood trees set the trembling of Blaine’s hand to hard shaking motions that caused her to drop the card and envelope. A gentleman at a nearby table moved quickly to return to her the envelope and card. Seeing her shaking hands and trembling lip, he offered to further assist her with the cover of the picture. No verbal response came but the half nod of her head was taken as affirmation.
The cover slipped down quickly and was removed. The look of horror on Blaine’s face was hidden from the general audience. In the picture, which measured three feet by four feet without counting the intricately carved frame, was what would appear to the average person looking at it, as an idyllic scene in a lush arboretum. The gazebo on the left appeared to be of the Victorian era with its many layers of gingerbread trim. In the middle of the scene, set back in the landscape of the picture was an old stone well with a large roof with Shaker tiles. The oversize bucket attached to a rope sat on the thick stonewalls of the well. The end of the rope hung in un-used loops of long ago. Many trees and colorful bushes appeared in the scene; and scattered throughout the picture were several Dogwood trees in full bloom. Streaking through the trees from above and enveloping the well, was a powerful “god-light”. It beamed first with a bead of light piercing the canopy of the trees then swelled larger to include the well entirely. There was no doubt it was a masterful painting and to most people it would speak to a serene sight that would soothe them if it hung in their office.
Blaine had one strong reaction to the painting. She fainted.