“Do you think she’ll like this?” Bess Marvin held up a toy hamburger and squeaked it at her cousin, George Fayne. “The package says it has authentic meat flavor.”
George made a face. “If I were a dog, I think I’d rather have a steak — a real one.”
“I have a steak in here, too.” Bess leaned over and rummaged through the large canvas bag at her feet. She pulled out a plastic steak, a rubber newspaper, a rawhide shoe, a tennis ball, and a library book.
George read the book’s title. “Raising a Well-Adjusted Puppy. Will two dozen toys make her well-adjusted?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t gotten past the first chapter — ‘Choosing Your Puppy,'” Bess admitted.
“Well, read fast,” their friend Nancy Drew said from the driver’s seat of her blue Mustang. “I don’t want any housebreaking accidents in my car.”
“I also brought paper towels,” Bess said. “Just in case.”
Nancy rounded a curve and turned onto a road nearly hidden by leafy, golden maples. “Do you get to choose your puppy?” she asked Bess. “Or did the Guiding Eyes already assign you one?”
“They’ve assigned one to me — a female golden retriever named Casey.” Bess sighed. “I guess I shouldn’t say ‘mine.'”
“I think you’re doing a wonderful thing, Bess.” Nancy glanced at her friend in the rearview mirror. “Caring for a puppy until she’s old enough to be trained as a guide dog for the blind.”
Bess twirled a strand of long, blond hair around her finger. “I hope I don’t get too attached.”
“How long will you have her?” George asked. “Fifteen months,” Bess replied. “Then she goes to guide dog school. If she passes, she’ll become a guide to someone who is blind. But if she flunks, I’ll get a chance to adopt her permanently.”
Nancy inched the car up a steep incline. “Where do I turn, Bess?”
Bess peered out the window. “There’s a hidden entrance, I think — wait — over there!”
Nancy hit the brakes hard, then skillfully guided the car around a hairpin turn.
“Sorry,” Bess said. “I’ve only been to Candlelight Inn once.”
“No wonder it went out of business,” George said. “Nobody could ever find the place.”
A few minutes later, Nancy parked the car along the side of a steep driveway lined with apple trees. Branches bent with green fruit dangled a few inches above the car’s hood.
Nancy, Bess, and George crunched through fallen leaves as they climbed the hill to the old Candlelight Inn. Black shutters framed the windows of the three-story gray stone building with two crumbling brick chimneys.
Brown leaves swirled around them, and a chilling gust of wind raised goose bumps on Nancy’s arms. A lacy curtain in one of the second-floor windows swayed slightly. Was someone watching them? Nancy wondered.
Bess looked at her watch. “We’re a little early. The breeders aren’t bringing the puppies until two o’clock.”
The front door opened, and a girl whom Nancy judged to be about eight years old sprinted down the hill toward them. “Bess!” the girl called. Her light brown pony tail flew out behind her. “I saw you through the window. Is Casey here?”
“Not yet,” Bess said. “Nancy and George, do you remember my neighbor, Amber Marshall?”
Nancy smiled at Amber. “Of course. It’s nice to see you again.”
“You, too.” Amber jumped up and down. “I’m so excited. I can’t wait to meet the puppies!”
“Bess is counting on you to help her with Casey,” George said. “She’s only read the first chapter of her dog-raising book.”
“Don’t worry, Bess. I’ve read three books,” Amber said. “I’ll help you.”
“Good,” Bess said, “because I’m not sure I can handle this responsibility all by myself. By the way,” she added, “where’s your brother?”
“He and Marisa are inside,” Amber said. “Come on. Do you want a tour?”
“Sure,” Bess said.
Nancy, Bess, and George followed Amber up the hill to the inn. The front door creaked loudly as Amber pushed it open. From the second floor came a pounding noise.
“Devon!” Amber called. “Bess is here.” The pounding sound stopped abruptly. Nancy squinted into the dimly lit, windowless hallway as Amber’s older brother, Devon, walked down the stairs, a hammer in his hand.
“Devon, you remember my cousin, George, and our friend Nancy Drew,” Bess said.
“Hi.” Devon set down the hammer. “I’d shake your hands, but I’ve hammered my thumb about ten times, and it’s throbbing.”
“What are you working on?” Bess asked.
“I was trying to do a quick patch job on a loose floorboard.” Devon rolled his eyes. “I might be able to design a building, but don’t ask me to help build or fix it.”
“Devon is studying architecture at Westmoor University,” Bess explained to Nancy and George.
“What an interesting profession,” Nancy said.
Devon shrugged. “Not really. My dad’s an architect, my grandfather was an architect, so I’m going to be an architect. Either that, or I’m going to pay my own way through college.”
“I’m going to be an architect,” Amber said. “Devon’s going to be an actor.”
Devon smiled. “Maybe. I hope.”
“Did Devon tell you he got a part in the fall play at Westmoor?” A tall brunette entered the hallway, guided by a black Labrador retriever wearing a leather harness. “He’s going to play Iago in Othello,” the woman said. She found Devon’s hand and gave it a light squeeze. “We’re very proud of him. Right, Amber?”
Amber nodded. “Yes, we are.” She turned to Nancy and George. “This is my brother’s girlfriend, Marisa Henares. Marisa, this is Nancy and George.”
Marisa smiled in Nancy and George’s direction. “Pleased to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you from Bess.”
“We’ve heard a lot about you,” George said.
“Yes. We were so sorry to hear about your grandmother’s death,” Nancy said.
“Thank you.” Marisa’s dark eyes filled with tears. Sensing that she was upset, the dog began to whine and lick her hand.
Marisa cleared her throat. “Nancy and George, meet Misty. She’s a black Lab, and she’s the best guide dog in the world.”
Amber gave Misty a hug. “See, Bess? You’re going to love raising a puppy.” She sighed. “I wish I could have one.”
“You will — in a few more years,” Devon said. “I know, I know.” Amber folded her arms across her chest. “Dad says that when I’m more mature and responsible, I can have a puppy. I bet I’ll be a hundred years old before Dad thinks I’m mature and responsible. You’re so lucky, Marisa.”
“Before I lost my sight, I never liked dogs. Now I can’t imagine living without one.” Marisa patted Misty’s head. “Did Devon give you the tour yet?”
“Not yet,” Bess said.
“I was waiting for you,” Devon told Marisa. “You’re our resident expert on the history of the inn.”
“Thanks for the compliment,” Marisa said. “Follow us.”
Marisa and Misty led the way through an arched entrance into the living room. Though the upholstery was slightly faded and worn, the large pieces of furniture were made of mahogany and looked to Nancy to be of high quality.
The room smelled musty, as if the windows had not been opened in years. Dark storm clouds had gathered outside, and the only light came from a dusty chandelier hanging from the high ceiling.
“Candlelight Inn was built in 1853 by my great-great-great-grandfather, Edward Allen Taper.” Marisa ran her hand over the intricately carved wood above one of the fireplaces. “He hired the finest craftsmen in Illinois to do the construction. For more than a hundred years, the inn was the most popular place to stay in River Heights.”
“Didn’t I read in the newspaper that Abraham Lincoln stayed here once?” Nancy asked.
Marisa smiled. “Yes.”
“Wow,” Amber said. “Wait till I tell my teacher. Maybe my class can come here on a field trip.”
“I’m not sure the Guiding Eyes would appreciate that,” Marisa said.
Amber frowned. “Oh. I forgot.”
“They’ll be doing construction here for the next year or so, to convert the building into the guide dog school. The dogs will eventually be trained here, and their new owners will stay at the school for several weeks while they get acquainted with their guide dogs,” Marisa explained. “When my grandmother decided to close the inn about thirty years ago, she had it remodeled to turn it into a private residence. The Guiding Eyes will have to undo a lot of the changes she made at that time.”
The group made its way down the long hallway to a spacious study lined with sagging book shelves. “This was my grandmother’s favorite room,” Marisa said.
“Are all these books in Braille?” Bess asked.
“Braille or large print,” Marisa said. “My grandmother did have some sight until a few years ago.”
“Your grandmother was blind, too?” Amber asked.
Marisa nodded. “We both had a hereditary disease called retinitis pigmentosa. I lost my sight completely when I was sixteen, but a lot of people with RP have some vision until they’re much older. My mother died when she was forty-four, and she never had any vision loss. The disease skips generations sometimes.”
“There sure are a lot of books here,” Amber said. “I guess your grandmother liked to read.”
“You’re right.” Marisa patted Misty’s head. “How do you think she got so smart?”
“Did she really make a million dollars in the stock market?” Amber asked.
“You bet she did,” Marisa said. “And she was in her seventies at the time.”
“Incredible,” George said.
“I’m executor of her estate, and I’ve been going through her paperwork. Good thing I’m taking classes in securities and taxes in law school — otherwise, I’d be very confused,” Marisa said.
Amber walked over to a painting of a woman that hung over the fireplace. She read the engraved plaque on the frame. “‘Emmaline Whitby.’ Who’s that in the painting, Marisa?”
“That was my grandmother,” Marisa said. “My mother painted that portrait many years ago. I’m told it’s very good.”
“It sure is,” Amber said.
Bess sat down at an antique sewing machine. A raised, leafy design was carved on the surface of each of its drawers. “Someone in your family had incredible taste, Marisa. This is the most gorgeous sewing machine I’ve ever seen.”
“You sew, don’t you, Bess?” Marisa asked.
“Yes,” Bess said, “although some people might disagree with me.” She looked at George.
“Just because I never wear that skirt you made me…” George said. “It’s very pretty — I just don’t wear skirts. You know that.”
Marisa smiled. “Would you like to have this sewing machine, Bess?”
Bess’s mouth dropped open. “But — it’s for the Guiding Eyes, isn’t it?”
“No,” Marisa said. “My grandmother left the Guiding Eyes the inn and the money to start the school. She left me all the furniture.”
“Don’t you want it?” Bess asked.
“Where would I put it?” Marisa asked. “I don’t live here — I have a tiny apartment. Anyhow, I never learned to sew.”
“But isn’t the sewing machine worth a lot of money?” Bess asked.
“No,” Marisa said. “This is all good furniture, but it’s not especially valuable. I plan to sell most of it, but if there’s anything you like, it’s yours.”
“I don’t know what to say. This is so kind of you.”
“Then you’ll take the sewing machine?” Marisa asked.
“Let me check with my mother first, just to make sure we have room for it,” Bess said. “Could I let you know tomorrow?”
“Of course.” Marisa walked with Misty to a desk on the other side of the room. “I think this old secretary matches it, too. And there might be a table upstairs.”
Bess laughed. “I think one sewing machine will do for now, but thanks.”
Amber pulled aside a heavy drape and looked out a window that overlooked the driveway. “The puppies are here!” she cried as she sprinted down the hallway and out the front door. Everyone followed her outside.
Several cars now lined the driveway, and six fluffy golden retriever puppies played with a dozen volunteer puppy-raisers in the leaves on the front lawn.
“It smells like rain,” Marisa said as she drew in a deep breath.
“I hope not.” Amber wrinkled her nose. “I love the dogs — except when they get wet. Yuck.”
“The sun looks like it’s peeking out of the clouds a little bit,” Bess said hopefully.
A woman with a clipboard walked over to them. Her curly black hair was mixed with gray. “Hi, Marisa,” she said.
“Hello,” Marisa said. “Penny Rosen, meet Nancy Drew, George Fayne, and Bess Marvin. Penny is the coordinator of the Guiding Eyes project here in River Heights,” Marisa explained. “Penny, Bess is here to pick up Casey.”
Penny reached down and scooped up a puppy that had trotted over and was sniffing Misty’s tail.
“What a coincidence,” Penny said. “This is Casey. Looks like she’s come to meet you.”
Bess gently took the squirming dog from Penny and held her at arm’s length. “You are so beautiful, Casey.” Casey’s chocolate-colored brown eyes and black nose stood out sharply from her light coat.
“Her hair is almost the same color as yours,” Penny told Nancy.
Amber looked at Nancy’s reddish blond hair. “It is. Oh, she’s so pretty. May I hold her, Bess?”
“Here you go.” Bess carefully passed the dog to Amber. Casey eagerly licked Amber’s hand and face. Amber kissed Casey’s tiny wet nose. Casey immediately jumped out of her arms and onto the lawn.
“I guess she didn’t like that,” Amber said.
Casey trotted over to Nancy.
“I think she just wanted to say hi to Nancy,” Devon said, putting an arm around his sister.
Casey sniffed Nancy’s shoe.
“Uh-oh,” Amber said.
Before Nancy could move, Casey squatted and made a puddle on Nancy’s shoe.
Bess gasped. “Nan! I’m sorry.”
Nancy bent down and patted Casey. “I’ve been through much worse. Don’t worry about it.” She turned to Marisa. “Would you mind if I went inside to clean my shoe?”
“Of course not,” Marisa said.
Nancy started up the hill. “I’ll be right back.” Nancy took off her shoes before entering the inn. The floor felt cold through her socks. This huge place must be expensive to heat, she thought.
Nancy found some paper towels in the kitchen. In the bathroom, she turned on the old-fashioned spigot and began to clean her shoe.
Over the running water, she thought she heard the sound of a ringing telephone. She turned off the tap. Yes, it was definitely the phone. But where was it?
Dashing to the kitchen, Nancy finally found a black, wall-mounted rotary phone. The dial was labeled with Braille numbers. She picked it up. “Guiding Eyes,” she said breathlessly. “May I help you?”
“Who is this?” a man’s voice asked.
“My name is Nancy Drew. I — “
“Where’s Marisa?” he asked.
“She’s outside. Would you like to speak with her?”
“Yes, please,” he said, sounding relieved. “This is Eric Pavlik — I’m a friend of hers.”
“I’ll get her for you,” Nancy said.
Nancy raced back down the hill and found Marisa helping Bess put on Casey’s collar. “Marisa, it’s Eric on the phone,” she said.
“I wonder why Eric’s calling me here,” Marisa said as she and Misty entered the inn with Nancy. “I hope nothing’s wrong.”
Nancy returned to the kitchen for her shoe and the paper towels as Marisa picked up the phone.
“Hi, Eric,” Marisa said. “What’s up?” Marisa listened for a moment, then Nancy saw her face grow pale. Marisa grasped the edge of the counter, and her knuckles were white as she grasped the receiver. “You’re in jail?”