Home > Engaging Deception (The Joplin Chronicles #3)

Engaging Deception (The Joplin Chronicles #3)
Author: Regina Jennings






Oh, the indignities of death.

Olive Kentworth dipped her horsehair brush into the jar of water and scrubbed the cold granite of the tombstone. Her mother had been gone for nearly a year, but Olive was still plagued by the emptiness in her days, in her home, in her heart. She tried to keep busy, and today that meant coming to the cemetery to wash away the bird droppings that marred her mother’s gravestone. After rearranging her skirt to better pad her knees, she scrubbed with vigor. If only the birds would stop eating the mulberries. The purple was nearly impossible to erase, but she couldn’t abide the idea that her mother’s headstone looked untended. Not when she’d tended her so well in life.

“I thought I’d find you here,” Maisie called from the far side of the shortleaf pine that shaded the family plot.

“Shh . . .” Olive said. “You’re in a graveyard. You shouldn’t be so buoyant.”

But Maisie was striding toward her, swinging a berry basket high with a hatchet tucked into her waistband. Her cousin Maisie was buoyant wherever she went, just like Olive was cautious.

“Aunt Myra was an admirer of my spirit. She wouldn’t mind.” Maisie spotted a hard-shelled bug climbing up the tombstone and flicked it away. “What would bother her is her daughter spending too much time alone at her grave.”

“Of course I’m alone. Mother’s gone. Who else am I supposed to take care of?” Olive started in on another blotch of purple.

“Take care of yourself.” Maisie said it like it was a reasonable course of action.

“I do take care of myself.” Olive glared at her over the gravestone. “I have a lot of things planned. In fact, Willow invited me to go traveling with her and Graham to see the country.”

“Welp, are you going?”

Olive dropped her gaze back to her work. “I would if it wasn’t for Father. It’s too soon to leave him alone.”

“You spent the last eight years looking after your mother. Now you’re going to look after your father?” Maisie set her basket down with force. “I’ll tell you what you’re doing. You’re hiding from life, Olive, and that’s why I’m here. I’m going to break you free.”

Putting one hand to her side, Maisie extracted the hatchet from her waistband. This wasn’t done easily, with the handle getting twisted in her skirt and requiring tugging and squirming to free it. Olive had time to pick up her jar and take a step back, as one could never be sure what her farm cousins were capable of. When Maisie grabbed the finial atop the grave marker and propped her foot against it, Olive gasped.

“Get down from there.” She looked around, afraid someone in Fairview Cemetery would observe Maisie’s outrageous behavior. “This isn’t the place for climbing.”

“I’ve come to free you, and that’s what I’m going to do.” Standing on Myra Kentworth’s grave and stretching to her full height, Maisie caught the branch of the pine above her. With skill, she pulled it closer, then began hacking at it. “This tree looks mighty pretty, but you ain’t going to keep the tombstone clean as long as the birds can sit above it.”

“We chose this site because of the shade,” Olive protested. “It’s a pretty spot.”

“Ain’t nothing pretty about those bird droppings. The only thing worse is a smart girl like you hiding her light under a bushel.” Maisie grunted with each strike. The bend in the branch showed that it was nearly cut through. Maisie dropped her hatchet, took the branch in both hands, and worked it until it snapped. She tossed the branch down, then hopped to the ground. “Olive Kentworth, your ma is dead, but you ain’t. It’s time to get to moving.”

Leave it to Maisie to boil down all life’s problems to a matter of will. “Moving for the sake of moving without any purpose or intent is futility. Maybe Granny Laura will put me on the board of some rich miner. Then my life would meet your qualifications.” Newlywed Maisie couldn’t expect everyone to up and marry a complete stranger, could she?

“I don’t recommend doing what I did, but how about Willow? She would’ve never met Graham if she’d stayed home and not been a Harvey Girl. Or Calista? She went and became a Pinkerton agent. Look what come of that.”

Olive did not possess Calista’s love of adventure or her sister Willow’s steely determination. Olive wanted to be safe at home with her drafting pencils, architect books, and her birdhouses. The challenges she sought were figuring out a floor plan or how to support a balcony. Something the other Kentworths didn’t understand. They expected everyone to be brave and outgoing. Olive was a disappointment.

But she’d come to do a job, and she was going to finish it. Despite Maisie’s groan of disapproval, Olive knelt and resumed scrubbing.

“You can’t ignore me forever.” Maisie snacked on some blackberries from her basket. “I think we should enlist Calista’s help. She’s always matching up jobs with the people who need them. Don’t you reckon she can do the same for you?”

“What if I don’t want a job?” Olive asked. “What if I’d be happier at home?” Or what if she didn’t have a choice, because no one would trust a woman in architecture?

There were two buildings in Joplin that bore her designs though not her name—the Lighthouse Center for Miners and the visitors’ center at the Crystal Cave. Because of her bedside vigil, she’d been unable to spend much time at the construction sites when they were built. Instead, Maisie’s brother Amos had been her representative. In fact, Amos, with his gift for gab, had convinced everyone that he was the designer behind the plans. Which was fine with Olive. She wasn’t looking for credit.

“You stop it, Olive. You used to be the most courageous one of us. You were so brave that you tossed everything aside to take care of your ma. That took gumption. But now you’re stuck in a rut.” Maisie twisted her mouth to the side as she sized Olive up. “If you want to stay cozy at home, we can go that route. Calista will get you gussied up while I corral a herd of eligible bachelors for your inspection. Either way, we aim to get you some prospects before suppertime.”

If Olive wasn’t kneeling by her mother’s grave, she would’ve laughed. Her with a herd of eligible bachelors? She touched her messy blond hair pulled into an uneven knot and tried to imagine what Calista would have to do to get her up to snuff. But it didn’t matter. Maisie wouldn’t understand. Olive’s insistence that she enjoyed solitude was mocked, her guarantee that she wouldn’t regret staying home rejected, and her demand that Maisie mind her own business ignored.

As Maisie continued on with her arguments and plans, one thing was becoming clear—according to her family, the only unacceptable thing was for Olive to remain as she was.


Olive was home from the cemetery with plenty of time to clean up and make her father’s dinner.

Time, she had plenty.

Early on, when her mother required tending, passing the time had been difficult. As she listened to her mother’s wracking cough, trying to keep up a brave face so her mother wouldn’t see how much her illness troubled her daughters, the hands of the clock seemed permanently set in place. When her sister, Willow, took her turn to spell her, Olive felt like a prisoner released from her sentence.

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