Other Books in the Dinswood chronicles The Secret of Dinswood
Edited by Lana King
The Missing Mortals Copyright ÂŠ 2020 Ellen Alexander All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, please write to the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the authorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published by BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2018948483 ISBN Numbers: Hardcover: 978-1-64397-010-3 Softcover: 978-1-947727-84-7 Ebook: 978-1-64397-011-0 For information, write: BHC Press 885 Penniman #5505 Plymouth, MI 48170
Visit the publisher: www.bhcpress.com
contents Prologue • 13 Chapter 1: Discovery • 15 Chapter 2: Early Returns • 20 Chapter 3: The Mission • 28 Chapter 4: The Story of Ruth • 38 Chapter 5: Taking a Break • 49 Chapter 6: Back to Work • 56 Chapter 7: An Unexpected Twist • 63 Chapter 8: A Tangled Web • 72 Chapter 9: The First Likely Spot • 79 Chapter 10: Seeking Sarah • 91 Chapter 11: Unforeseen Developments • 107 Chapter 12: The First Delivery • 121 Chapter 13: Welcome Back • 132 Chapter 14: First Day • 144 Chapter 15: Summer in September • 156 Chapter 16: An Enemy Around Every Corner • 170 Chapter 17: Reprieve • 176 Chapter 18: Return to Windland • 186
Chapter 19: Cathedral Cave • 198 Chapter 20: Words to Live By • 212 Chapter 21: The Alpha-O’s • 219 Chapter 22: The Hayride • 229 Chapter 23: A Walk in the Moonlight • 249 Chapter 24: A Day to Remember • 263 Chapter 25: Dance With the Devil • 275 Chapter 26: Paying the Piper • 286 Chapter 27: An Unexpected Ally • 295 Chapter 28: Forgiven • 309 Chapter 29: An Odd Couple • 321 Chapter 30: A Truce Is Called • 332 Chapter 31: A Special Christmas Present • 351 Chapter 32: A Christmas Miracle • 362 Chapter 33: Waiting for Spring • 371 Chapter 34: Disturbing News • 377 Chapter 35: Diving for Buried Treasure • 380 Chapter 36: A New Tradition at Dinswood • 387 Chapter 37: To Catch a Thief • 396 Chapter 38: Explanations • 410 Chapter 39: A Last Resort • 418 Chapter 40: The Little Black Box • 425 Chapter 41: Mice in a Maze • 432
Chapter 42: Tower of Terror • 443 Chapter 43: Trapped • 453 Chapter 44: The Rescue • 461 Chapter 45: A Surprising Confession • 472 Chapter 46: Gifts and Goodbyes • 480 Epilogue • 491
prologue DINSWOOD CASTLE 1722 AD
hat is it you’re doing, my love?” Darius asked his wife with an affectionate smile. Rebecca looked over at her husband, her green eyes shining with excitement. “I’m writing a letter to our little one.” “But our baby isn’t even here yet,” Darius pointed out gently. “I know, but it’s only a matter of days now. I want our baby to know how much we already love him or her,” Rebecca added, raising an eyebrow at her husband. Rebecca was convinced that the baby she was carrying was a boy, and Darius was equally certain it was a girl. The sex of the child didn’t really matter to either of them. Their only concern was that the baby be healthy. Darius was watching her from the door of the room they shared. They had been married almost ten years, and Rebecca couldn’t help thinking that her husband was just as handsome now as he’d been when she first met him. At forty-four, his dark hair had only a smattering of gray, mostly at his temples. He kept his hair short but long
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enough so that it lay attractively on his forehead and curled over his ears. His dark brown eyes could still melt her with a glance, and his six-foot-two inch frame was still lean and well muscled. Darius leaned against the doorjamb and continued to watch his wife as she turned her attention back to the letter she was writing. She was sitting in bed, propped up by a couple of pillows. The pillows were almost completely covered by her long red tresses. Ever since learning of her pregnancy, Rebecca had been positively glowing with happiness, and now that the baby’s arrival was only days away, she looked more beautiful than ever. Darius understood the joy she felt because he was just as happy and excited as his wife. They had been hoping and praying for a child for nine long years. Darius had given up and accepted the fact that they would never have children, but Rebecca had continued to pray. Almost nine months ago, Rebecca had learned that she was pregnant. She had been ecstatic, and Darius had been cautiously optimistic. Not long after learning of her pregnancy, Rebecca began having problems, and her doctors put her on strict bed rest. Normally very active, Rebecca found the sudden inactivity hard, but she endured it without complaint for the sake of her unborn child. Now, they were only days away from the birth of their first child. Darius was extremely proud of his brave wife, and he loved her more than words could say. Darius remained where he was, watching the poignant scene before him a little longer. There were things he needed to do, but he couldn’t seem to drag himself away. Smiling to himself, he thought about the wonderful surprise he had waiting for Rebecca. He planned to give it to her after the baby was born. With a sigh of regret, he pushed away from the doorjamb and turned to go. As he walked away, seeds of worry and doubt crept into his mind—worry about the impending birth and doubt that he had lived a life worthy of such happiness.
ay Sutton glanced nervously at his watch for the third time in as many minutes. Then his gaze shifted to the rapidly darkening sky. They were going to have to hurry if they wanted to get the foundation of Dinswood Academy’s new gymnasium dug before nightfall. Ray’s company, Sutton Construction, had recently been hired by Lord Percival Dinswood to build the new gymnasium. One of Ray’s crew, Clint Harris, was currently operating the front-end loader. Ray watched as it dumped its most recent load of dirt. A flash of lightning on the distant horizon had him looking at the sky again. Not only was it going to be getting dark soon, but a storm was on the way. Ray had listened to the latest weather reports on his portable radio earlier that afternoon. This particular storm was bringing with it the possibility of several inches of rain. Flash flood warnings had been issued for the entire area. If they didn’t finish digging the foundation now, it might be several days before it would be dry enough to continue. That would put them behind schedule, and Ray was a stickler for schedules. It wasn’t only the schedule, however, that had Ray worried. Sutton Construction had won the contract for the job because Ray had put in
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the lowest bid for the project. If he was going to stay within the budget he’d proposed to Dinswood, the digging needed to be completed today. A half hour later, Ray breathed a sigh of relief; it seemed as if they would be able to finish the job tonight after all. Clint only had two more loads of dirt to remove, and although it had already gotten dark, the rain had held off. Ray had let the rest of the crew leave over an hour ago, so only he and Clint remained. Ray was just thinking that it might be several days before the ground would be dry enough to set the forms for the foundation when the wind began to pick up. After the heat of the afternoon, the breeze felt good, but Ray knew that it signaled the storm’s arrival. Ray glanced anxiously at the loader. Clint was working on his last load when a brilliant flash of lightning lit the sky and the first fat drops of rain began to fall. Ray was preparing to retreat to the castle when he saw it—a glint of light reflected brightly from something in the mound of dirt held in the bucket of the loader. He froze for a moment, curious despite himself, and waited for another flash of lightning so he could get a better look. Ray had heard rumors that some sort of treasure had recently been discovered at Dinswood Academy, and he suspected that it was a part of that treasure that was paying for the school’s new gymnasium. Maybe what he had seen was more of the treasure. Ray held his breath and waited. He didn’t have to wait long. Another flash of lightning followed quickly on the heels of the first. Although it had been brief, it had been long enough for Ray to see that the glint of light had come from a metal box about two feet long and a foot wide. Driven by a sense of urgency he didn’t quite understand, he began frantically waving his arms and shouting to get Clint’s attention. But Clint couldn’t hear him over the noise of the loader and the storm. Ray began running toward the loader. If Clint dropped that load, he might damage whatever was in the box.
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Clint was in the process of turning the loader to dispose of the last load of dirt when he spotted Ray running at him like a madman. What in the world is wrong with him? Clint thought. Ray had been driving the whole crew like a man possessed, insisting that they finish digging the foundation for the gymnasium today, and now that they were this close to finishing, it looked like he was signaling for Clint to stop the loader. Unsure of what Ray wanted him to do, Clint let the loader idle and waited for Ray to approach. Ray reached the cab of the loader just as it began to pour. “Stop the loader!” Ray panted, out of breath from running. “What are you talking about? This is the last load.” Clint was at a loss to understand Ray’s strange behavior. “Set the bucket down and do it gently!” Ray commanded. With his clothes already soaking wet and his hair plastered against his head, he truly looked the part of a lunatic. Clint hesitated for a moment longer, and then with a sigh and a shake of his head that indicated more clearly than words that he thought Ray had gone off the deep end, he manipulated the levers that would set the bucket down. “You’ve unearthed a metal box of some kind. It might have something valuable in it,” Ray explained hastily as he ran around to the front of the loader. Curious now himself and heedless of the downpour, Clint followed. With the help of the loader’s headlights and the intermittent flashes of lightning, they quickly located the box and began to dig it out of the pile of dirt in which it was lodged. Once they had it free, they set it on the ground and let the rain rinse off the remaining dirt. Seeing that it was padlocked, Clint shouted, “I’ve got a crowbar in the cab of the loader.” A loud crash of thunder punctuated his statement and had him running around the side of the loader. In moments, he was back with the crowbar and working on the padlock as Ray stood by and watched.
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Soon the box was opened to reveal something wrapped in cloth and lying in a bed of straw. Clint reached into the box, but once again Ray stopped him. “I’ll do it!” Reverently, Ray picked up the object and began to unwrap it, all the while licking the rainwater off his lips in greedy anticipation. A perfectly timed streak of lightning revealed the treasure inside. Ray couldn’t believe his eyes. He’d finally hit the jackpot. This one piece was probably worth millions, and only he and Clint knew about it. He was about to tell Clint that they would split whatever money they got for it when he happened to look toward the castle. Light shone from a single window on the third floor, and in that window, he could see the silhouette of a man. Someone was watching them, probably the old man himself. He had no choice now but to tell Lord Dinswood about the discovery. Ray shook his head in disgust. It was just his luck. He’d come so close to being able to quit his crummy job and live comfortably for the rest of his life. Ray looked over at Clint and saw that he was still enraptured by the object Ray was holding. It was apparent that he wasn’t aware that they were being observed. “What do you think it’s worth?” Clint asked in awe. “It doesn’t matter. We’ve got to turn it in,” Ray replied. “Are you crazy? This is our ticket to the good life. No more scratching in the dirt for us.” “Yeah, well, it looks like today isn’t our lucky day,” Ray said, inclining his head in the direction of the castle. Clint followed his gaze and swore under his breath. After he’d had a few moments to let his disappointment sink in, he sighed in resignation and said, “You take it to the old man then. I better get the loader out of here while I still can.” By this time, Clint was soaking wet too, and water was beginning to pool under his feet. He needed to get the loader up on solid ground before the area around him turned into a muddy swamp.
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Ray nodded his agreement and then began rewrapping the object while rain dripped off his forehead and nose. When he had finished, he placed it gently back in its bed of straw and closed the lid of the metal box. Clint had broken the padlock with his crowbar, so Ray made no attempt to relock the box. As Clint restarted the loader, Ray picked the box up and carefully made his way over to the path leading to the castle. As if to add insult to injury, it began to rain even harder. Ray grunted in frustration and anger. It seemed that every time he turned around, that crazy old man was watching him. This job was turning out to be more trouble than it was worth. Then a thought occurred to him. If this box was part of the treasure, there might be more of it buried around the castle somewhere. It was an idea definitely worth pursuing, but it was going to be difficult with the old man around watching their every move. Well, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll just have to figure out a way to get Dinswood out of the picture for a while, Ray thought. There had to be a way short of murder. Ray had no qualms about keeping whatever treasure he discovered, but he was no murderer. He was almost to the castleâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s back entrance when a solution came to him.
mma Higsby was sitting on the bed in her room reading a book when the phone in the hallway began to ring. Without hesitation, she threw the book down, jumped off the bed, and raced to the door, turning the knob and pulling it open in a perfectly timed, well-practiced move. Once through the door, she dashed down the hall to where the phone sat on a small table, managing to grab the telephone receiver just fractions of a second before her five-year-old twin brothers, Taylor and Tyler. Emma had been half listening for the phone all evening because she was expecting a call from her best friend, Martha Merriweather. Emma didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t have a cell phone, so Martha always called the house phone. All summer long, Martha had called the house at least twice a week so that the two girls could keep each other up to date on all that was going on during their summer vacations. So far, Emma had very little to tell. Her summer had consisted of helping with the household chores and occasionally babysitting her little brothers when Vera and her dad wanted to go out for the evening. Marthaâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s summer had been a little more eventful and interesting. Her family had spent a couple of weeks in Hawaii and had just
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recently returned from Paris. The Paris trip had been a business trip for her father, but he had invited the whole family to go along. They had been gone a week, and during that time, Martha hadn’t been able to make her usual calls. Emma had been anxious to hear all about Martha’s Paris adventure. Holding the receiver up in triumph, Emma grinned wickedly at her brothers. After a quick, “We’ll beat you next time,” which was said in unison, the two boys ran off to play. Emma waited until they were gone and then said hello into the receiver. “Emma, you’re not going to believe what just happened!” Martha cried excitedly, not even bothering to identify herself. “What?” Emma responded somewhat perplexed. She had been expecting to hear all about Martha’s trip and couldn’t begin to imagine what could be more exciting than that. “I just got a call from Lord Dinswood and he’s going to be calling you next.” Now, Emma was really intrigued. Lord Dinswood was the founder of Dinswood Academy, the most prestigious boarding school in the country. Last year, Emma had won one of the scholarships the school offered. Dinswood Academy was actually a renovated castle set in the heart of the mountains. In his will, Lord Dinswood had left the castle to the state to be used as a school. Emma had fallen in love with the school almost immediately upon her arrival, and it had become like home when she had become best friends with Martha. Then she had met Doug, the dean’s son, and his best friend, Sebastian. The four of them had been practically inseparable. Last year they’d had quite an adventure and had eventually discovered that Lord Dinswood was still very much alive. Since that time, they had come to know Lord Dinswood as a kind, compassionate man. Emma couldn’t begin to imagine what Lord Dinswood would want from either her or Martha.
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Before Emma could respond to this first startling news, Martha continued with another revelation. “He wants us to return to school early. He says he has something important for us to help him with.” Emma’s mind whirled with thoughts of what that something important could be. The last task they’d undertaken for the school had nearly cost them their lives. It had been worth it though, and looking back, Emma wouldn’t have changed a thing. Her stomach gave an excited flutter at the thought of returning to school early. School wasn’t supposed to start for another three weeks. If she was honest with herself, it wasn’t just the idea of another adventure that had her insides in a knot; it was the thought of seeing Doug again. She liked Doug a lot and not just because of his dark good looks. She and Doug shared a special bond; both knew what it was like to be without a mother. Emma’s mother had died when she was five. Her father had married Vera a year later, and Emma had never been able to look upon her as a mother. In truth, Vera had never encouraged any such feelings from Emma. Emma’s relationship with Vera was strained and awkward at best, and it was this in part that had driven Emma to work so hard to win the scholarship to the academy. Doug’s situation was a little different but no less painful. His mother had walked out on him and his father when he was only three. She had remarried shortly afterward and, in the years following, had made no attempt to contact Doug. It was as if he didn’t exist. Emma had felt an immediate empathy for Doug. Although he tried to hide it, Emma knew his mother’s abandonment still hurt him terribly. Emma was brought back to the present by Martha’s exclamation, “Emma, are you there?” “Yeah, I’m just trying to figure out what Lord Dinswood could possibly need help with.” “I have no idea, but it’s kind of exciting, isn’t it? Lord Dinswood said he’d be calling Sebastian too, so the gang will all be together
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again, that is if your parents agree to let you go early. Do you think they will?” Emma hadn’t thought about that. Although her relationship with Vera wasn’t the best, Emma still helped a lot around the house and babysat Taylor and Tyler quite a bit as well. Vera might very well refuse to let her go. Emma doubted that her father would care one way or the other. Then Emma remembered that Martha had said Lord Dinswood himself would be calling. Although Vera might say no to her, Emma doubted that she would say no to Lord Dinswood. He could be very persuasive if the situation called for it. Martha’s next statement made Emma feel even better about her chances of getting to return to school early. “Lord Dinswood said he would make all the travel arrangements for us, and since we’ll be doing him a favor, he’s going to pay our airfare too.” EMMA SAT QUIETLY in the back seat of the car that was taking her up the mountainside toward Dinswood Academy. It had been nearly three months since she’d seen it. As the car drew closer to the castle, Emma sat forward and stared out the window so she would see it the moment it came into view. As eager as she was to see the castle, she was even more excited at the thought of seeing her friends again. Over the summer, she had missed them even more than she’d thought she would. Doug’s dad, Dean Harwood, had sent Reverend and Mrs. Palmer down to the airport to pick her up. They had been waiting for her when her plane had landed and had greeted her with a warm hug, making her feel loved in a way she hadn’t felt in a long time. After loading her luggage in the silver SUV they were driving, Emma and the Palmers had begun the journey up to the school. Reverend Palmer conducted services in the school’s chapel each week and served as the counselor. His wife, Judy Palmer, was one of
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the academy’s foreign language teachers. During the ride up, Reverend Palmer asked Emma about her summer and filled her in on all that had transpired at the academy in the months she’d been away. With the treasure Lord Dinswood had generously donated to the school, construction of a new gymnasium had begun. The foundation had been dug, and the walls would be going up very soon, Reverend Palmer informed her. Emma was anxious to see for herself. The gym, complete with a weight room and indoor Olympic-size pool, would make it possible for the school to have team sports. It was the hope that this would attract more students to the academy despite its rather rigorous academic requirements. The academy was unusual, not only because of its high academic standards, but also because of its unique approach. Students at the academy were not allowed to watch television or play video games. Instead, they were encouraged to use any spare time they might have in the pursuit of hobbies or getting some fresh air and exercise outdoors. Each semester, students were given the opportunity to receive instruction in the hobby of their choosing. Last year, Emma had learned to crochet. Computers were available to the students but were to be used strictly for educational purposes. The school had no Internet access, so research had to be accomplished the old-fashioned way using books. To that end, the school’s enormous library was well stocked with the latest and most up-to-date reference materials. Emma’s two favorite rooms in the castle were the library and the lounge. Both rooms boasted a fireplace with large comfortable chairs scattered around, giving them a warm cozy feel. Emma was just thinking that they must be getting close when they rounded a curve and Dinswood Academy came into view. Even though she’d seen it many times, it still took her breath away. The castle, a three-story structure of gray stone, stood proudly in the afternoon sun. The fountain, which was located directly across from
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the main entrance, was in full operation. An arc of water rose several feet high only to return to the earth as a mist that sparkled in the sun like a million diamonds. The car was just pulling up in front of the castle when the large twin oak doors of the main entrance were thrust open, and out rushed Martha with Doug and Sebastian close behind. Last year, Emma had learned what a special person Martha was, and she had become more like a sister to Emma than a friend. When the car finally came to a stop, Emma couldn’t get out fast enough. Overjoyed at seeing her best friend again, Emma met Martha halfway up the stairs and threw her arms around her. Martha did likewise, and they both laughed out loud as they nearly fell down. Regaining their balance and after another quick hug, the two girls let go of one another, and in their excitement at being reunited, they both started talking at once. “I’ve missed you!” Emma exclaimed. “I was afraid your parents wouldn’t let you come,” Martha said at the same time. “They didn’t want me to, but they couldn’t refuse the offer of free airfare,” Emma replied with a wry smile. Then she turned to greet Sebastian who had come to stand next to Martha and froze in surprise. Sebastian was at least two inches taller than when she had seen him last, and he had thinned down considerably. The plump boy she remembered was gone, and if it weren’t for the red hair and freckles, she wouldn’t have recognized him. Noticing her reaction, Sebastian said with a sheepish grin, “I know I look different, but it really is me. I had a bit of a growth spurt this summer.” “I should say so,” Emma said and looked at Martha to see what she thought of the new Sebastian. Martha gave her a smile that indicated she rather liked the taller slimmer version. Sebastian was growing into a handsome young man. Emma still preferred the dark
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good looks of Doug, but she could see how a girl could be attracted to Sebastian. Thinking of Doug, Emma now turned to say hello to him. All of a sudden, she felt nervous. It had been three months since she had spoken to Doug. Shyly, she looked up at him and saw that he was watching her with a big smile on his face. Emma was just as beautiful as he remembered, maybe even more so. It was good to see her again. He wanted to tell her these things, but he lacked the courage, especially with Martha and Sebastian present. Instead, he said, “Hi, Emma. Welcome back.” “It’s good to be back,” Emma replied with a smile of her own. Doug had changed a bit too. He seemed to have grown as well and was even more handsome, if that was possible. “The gang’s all back together again,” Sebastian said happily. “Yep,” Martha agreed. “What trouble can we get into this year?” Speaking of trouble reminded Emma of the reason for their early reunion and prompted her to ask, “Do you guys know what Lord Dinswood wants us to help him with?” It was Doug who answered her question. “No, he hasn’t told us anything yet. He wants us all to meet with him in his suite after supper. He said he’d fill us in on everything then.” Emma looked at her watch. It was only three in the afternoon, so they had some time to kill before supper. That would give her a chance to get settled in. She and Martha would be sharing the same dorm room they’d had last year along with Clarice and Susie once school started again. At the end of school, they’d been allowed to pick their roommates for the upcoming year. The four girls got along well and had decided to share a suite again. Clarice could be a bit of a snob, but Emma had learned that she really didn’t mean anything by it. Susie idolized Clarice, and although she could be a little dim-witted at times, she really was very sweet. At least with Clarice and Susie, she and Martha knew what they were getting.
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Reverend and Mrs. Palmer had told her they would have someone from the school’s custodial staff take her luggage up to her room just before they had dropped her off. With any luck, her bags were already in her room. As if reading her mind, Doug suggested, “Emma, why don’t you get unpacked, and then we can meet together in the lounge around four o’clock. I want to show you the progress that’s been made on the new gym. Do you think an hour will give you enough time?” “That should be plenty of time,” Emma agreed. In truth, she could probably get unpacked in half that time. She didn’t really have that much to put away, but the extra time would give her and Martha a chance to talk and catch up. Emma wanted to get Martha’s reaction to the new Sebastian, and Martha still hadn’t told her about her Paris adventure. Agreeing to meet again in an hour, the four separated. The girls’ dorm, Brimley Hall, was in the west wing of the castle. As she and Martha walked down the hall leading to the girls’ dorm, Emma realized how much she had missed the drafty old castle. It really felt good to be back at Dinswood Academy; it was as if she had come home again. The castle seemed strangely quiet without the hustle and bustle of the other students, and Emma realized that the four of them would have the castle practically to themselves for three whole weeks. When they passed the lounge, Emma noticed that the doors were open. Peeking inside, she could see that the portrait of Lord Dinswood had been moved from the library, where it had been mistakenly hung after the original renovations, to the lounge where it rightfully belonged. Looking at the picture of Lord Dinswood, Emma wondered yet again what the academy’s founder wanted with the four of them. Whatever it was, she had a sneaking suspicion that they were in for another great adventure.
about the author Ellen Alexander was born and raised in Springfield, Illinois. She attended the University of Illinois and graduated with a bachelorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s degree in microbiology. After graduation, she and her husband Jim moved to Dixon, Missouri, where they raised their three sons. Ellen taught high school chemistry in Dixon for twenty-six years. Now retired, Ellen spends her time writing and enjoying her grandchildren.