Thank you so much for having me at Musings about the Writing Life, Linda. Several of my romantic suspense/murder mystery books are set in Alexandria, Virginia, a colonial town on the Potomac River across from Washington, DC, where I lived for many years. The Mason’s Mark: Love and Death in the Tower, is one of those novels.
Most of The Mason’s Mark, is set at the George Washington National Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. The 330-foot-tall building has three sections—the ground level, the main floor, and the tower. The tower holds six progressively smaller rooms. The top level opens to an observation deck, from which visitors can see all of Alexandria and Washington, DC—or, if you’re my heroine, find a dead body.
The fourth floor contains a museum dedicated to George Washington. Washington served as the Charter (first) Master of the Alexandria lodge, and many of his letters and memorabilia are housed here, including the Washington family Bible. Since our heroine and hero meet in the museum, it follows that the Mason’s Mark would involve long-lost papers, distant family scandals, and academic intrigue concerning our first President. Delicious mystery and even more delicious romance ensue.
In the worst first day at work ever, newly minted docent Claire Wilding’s carefully memorized spiel is interrupted by the discovery of a dead body. As she deals with a smitten police detective, a hunky Senator, shadowy black ops agents, and two eccentric mothers, she learns more than she ever expected to about jewels and pennies, renegade Italian Masons, and our first President’s family secrets. Along the way she discovers that first love is not always the right love.
When they reached Prince Street, Gideon found a parking spot directly in front of her house, no small feat. Just one more way he’s special, thought Claire glumly. He walked her to her door. She unlocked it and turned to thank him, but he was already on his way to his car.
Ichabod greeted her with a snarl.
“I know. I forgot to feed you. Come on, Icky.” She found a can of cat food and emptied it into his bowl. Then she poured herself a large glass of water and took it to the living room to conduct an analysis of the soiree.
So at any point did I come across as even semi-coherent? She tried to hack through the warm, fuzzy blanket of the evening. Gideon had been the perfect gentleman, ordering foie gras and champagne, pointing out the constellations with obvious expertise, helping her in and out of the car. It all seemed so…unreal. Like he was acting a part. Too perfect. And he’d sucked her in like soda through a straw. She slapped her forehead, forgetting that she still held the glass. Water sluiced across her face and ran down her front. She mopped it up with some tissues and vowed to hit the antique stores that weekend. I’ve got to get a coffee table. Preferably one with cup holders.
The doorbell rang. With the disintegrating tissue pressed to her face, she stood on tiptoe to check the peephole and looked straight into an unblinking sea-green ocean. Gideon. After a minute she remembered to open the door.
He stared at her with concern. “Are you all right?”
Claire pulled the tissue away and noticed black streaks on it. Her mascara must have run. Oh no, I bet he thinks I’ve been crying. She rubbed her eyes, hoping that wasn’t making it worse. “Fine. I spilled a glass of water, that’s all.”
“Oh.” He stood, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “Um, could I come in for a minute?”
She pointed at the living room and backed away, then turned and leapt up the steps. A quick look in the mirror confirmed her suspicions. I look like something Ichabod’s been playing with. She fixed her face, wrung out her blouse, and returned with renewed aplomb.
Gideon filled the small space. Claire sidled around him and sat on a packing crate. He looked around the room. “So…er, have you just moved in?”
“Yes.” It struck her that he was more uncomfortable than she and drew strength from that. “About a week ago. Sorry about the mess. Won’t you have a seat?”
He dropped down on the loveseat but immediately sprang back up. He patted his rear, flummoxed. “Why am I wet?”
Claire put a hand to her mouth to suppress the giggle. “Ooh, I’m sorry. I forgot. That’s where I spilled the water. Here, let me.”
She retrieved a towel from the kitchen and began to dab at the dark blotch on his khakis. He stood it for a minute, then put a hand under her chin and lifted her up. “You’d better stop doing that. This is hard enough for me.” He blinked. “Do you…do you know how beautiful you are?”
The question threw her. How to respond? Yes? No? Tell me more? She decided to let him talk.
“Your eyes are the color of the deepest part of the Caribbean Sea on a cloudless day. I could sink into them and drown.” He touched her brow. “And these little cinnabar ringlets framing that soft, creamy face…” He wrapped one around his finger. “Wind one up tight and it could strangle me.” He took her hand. “Your fingers—so slim and delicate, like little stilettos. Sharp enough to gouge an eye out.”
Claire stepped away from him, bewildered. “You make me sound like a vicious animal. Why?”
His hands dropped to his sides. “Because I sense how dangerous you are.”
“To me. Claire…I—” He gazed at her helplessly.
Someone had better take charge.
Although she has lived or traveled in every continent except Antarctica and Australia (bucket list), M. S. Spencer has spent the last thirty years mostly in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, Congressional staff assistant, speechwriter, editor, birdwatcher, kayaker, policy wonk, non-profit director and parent. Blessed with two fabulous grown children and an adorable grandchild, she has published ten romantic suspense/mystery novels. She now divides her time between the Florida Gulf coast and a tiny hamlet in Maine.