Whispers of Murder

By: Cheryl Bradshaw


This book is dedicated to Kylie.

May you never stray far from the vineyard.

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow.

The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”

-Abraham Lincoln


Isabelle Donnelly’s eyes darted around the room, first to her mother, and then her sister before they came to rest on the man that stood as a barrier between herself and her betrothed.

“We are gathered here today in the presence of God to offer up our bounteous thanks for the gift of marriage, and to witness the joining together of Isabelle and Leo,” the pastor said.

Isabelle’s gaze returned to her mother who was perched on a pew in the front row. Her mother’s eyes were riveted on a single piece of lace fabric in her lap that she picked at like she hoped it would unravel, just like she wished the wedding would. She’d hadn’t made eye contact with her daughter since she entered the church, and Isabelle suspected she wouldn’t, not after the blow up she’d had with her father the night before. He’d knocked on the door to Isabelle’s hotel room with a request that he speak with her, but it didn’t take long for her to realize it was a latch-ditch effort to dissuade her from the decision she’d made to marry. When she refused to listen to what he liked to call “the Donnelly voice of reason,” he stomped out of the room, slamming the door behind him. She hadn’t seen him since.

The pastor continued. “Today is a time for family and friends to share in their commitment to each other by offering Isabelle and Leo our continued support, love and best wishes in their lives together.”

Isabelle’s sister, Melanie, slouched back in her seat, rolled her eyes in disgust and exchanged a why-the-hell-are-you-doing-this glance with her. Isabelle scrunched her eyes shut and wished when they opened again her family would have all disappeared. Today was the day she would marry the man of her dreams, but everywhere she looked she was met with scowls of disapproval. It made her question why they’d come at all and why they hadn’t forsaken her like her father who abandoned her at the last moment to walk down the aisle alone. Did he really think she wouldn’t go through with it just because he disapproved? And where was Emmett? He promised he’d be there and yet she’d studied the faces of everyone in attendance. His wasn’t one.

Isabelle disregarded the tension that saturated the room and stared into Leo’s eyes. The room around them whirred to a stop, and in slow motion he slid the three-carat diamond ring into position on her finger. “I know we’ve only known each other for a few months,” he said, “but I’d feel the same even if it had been three years. I never knew women like you existed. From the first time we bumped into each another, I knew I had to have you. Nothing else mattered to me anymore, only you.”

A faint gagging sound broke the silence. Isabelle turned to her sister who clasped her hand to her throat like she had a piece of meat lodged inside that she was desperate to get out.

The pastor nudged Isabelle and placed his hand over hers. “It’s your turn,” he said and nodded toward Leo.

She cleared her throat. “Leo, I…”

The next two minutes passed by like a blur, and in the end Isabelle wasn’t sure if she’d said what she intended or if any of the vows she’d spent the past several days rehearsing had come out as planned. All that mattered to her now was that the wedding was over and the two of them could get on with their lives somewhere far away from the scrutiny of her family.

Leo rubbed his thumb over her hand and mouthed the words, “We’re almost there.”

The pastor surveyed the audience and spoke. “If any of you can show just cause why these two fine people shouldn’t be married, speak now or else forever hold your peace.”

Isabelle gave Melanie a glare that said: stop the wedding and I’ll never forgive you. Her sister uncrossed her legs and crossed them together on the opposite side but remained silent.

The back doors to the church flung open like they’d been forced into submission by an onslaught of insurgents and Isabelle’s father staggered inside. Emmett followed close behind. Neither spoke, but her father eyeballed her with a solemn look on his face. A single tear traveled down his cheek and splashed down on the belt buckle that clung to the waist of his Wrangler jeans. She was stunned. Her father had never broken down in front of her before. Emmett ushered him to a row at the back of the room and they lowered their bodies down into their seats.

The preacher waited until they were settled in and continued. “Now that Isabelle and Leo have given themselves to each other by solemn vows, before us and before God as witness, and have shown their affection and trust by the giving and receiving of rings and by joining hands, and by the power vested in me I pronounce…”