Stolen Gems finds Melody at the Create Conference, the event she’s been talking about since the first book, Christmas Crisis!
In her heart, Melody is hoping this will be her big break. She’ll have the opportunity to present her blog, her baked goods and her cookbook to a panel of judges. If she wins, not only would it mean a lot more exposure for her blog, but opportunities for a book deal, partner opportunities, even guest spots on a television series!
Melody jumps into the event, thrilled to be around women artists of all backgrounds: jewelery designers, textile designers, writers, painters, bakers, chocolatiers, it’s the event of the year for creative women!
Almost as soon as the event starts, so do the mishaps, including a massive theft and an attempted murder!
Melody walked as fast as she could, breathing hard and maneuvering between strollers, couples and business people on the crowded sidewalk. A car accident on I-80 had delayed traffic for more than an hour, throwing her hopes of being punctual to the wind.
She had left her car in a general parking garage four blocks away to avoid the hefty hotel parking fee and what a mistake that had been. What in the world was I thinking? She dragged her suitcase behind her, feeling beads of sweat start to leak through her shirt and trickle down her back. Great. I’m showing up at the conference of the year looking as if I’ve been standing in a hot kitchen for the past three hours.
Her breathing increased as she picked up the pace, hoisting her computer bag over her left shoulder and yanking her rolling suitcase behind her. Hurry up Melody, you’re almost there. In her right arm she carried a large box, full of individually wrapped brownie truffles. Not only was today the start of the Create Conference—the conference for artisanal entrepreneurial women—she was participating in the Pitch It sessions, an opportunity to share her book idea in front of a group of panelists made up of agents, editors, and others from the food industry. Sending in her application to present had been one of the most nerve-racking things she’d ever done, mostly because she was afraid she’d be chosen to present—which, of course, she had been.
I’m probably going to stutter through the pitch. But at least my brownie truffles are delicious, maybe that will win some points with the judges. She worked to go faster, trying to remember her presentation. Her calves burned, and her feet felt as if they were on fire; maybe wearing three-inch turquoise heels hadn’t been such a hot idea after all.
Melody reached the walkway to the Grand Plaza and started up a flight of stairs to the hotel. She kept her eyes down, looking at the steps to avoid tripping. A loud voice from several feet away made her jerk her head up.
“Watch out!” The man’s voice projected over the noise of the bustling street.
Too late. Melody ran right into a woman who was also looking down, tapping away on her phone. She tightened her hold on the box of truffles and tried to swerve, but they collided, and all she saw was a sea of brown as her face smashed into the woman’s pea coat. Melody stuck her free arm out as she started to lose her balance. She landed with a thud and a bolt of pain shot through her arm.
The box landed on the stairs next to her, and she winced. “Are you okay?” Melody asked, as she reached out to the woman; she was hunched over, pulling her brown coat tightly around herself. Melody forced her eyes away from the fallen truffles. Jiminy Crickets. If they’re ruined, there goes the distinctive touch on my presentation.
She touched the woman’s shoulder, her concern rising. The woman didn’t move for a few seconds; she seemed stunned. Melody spoke again, moving to the side, “I’m so sorry, I should’ve been looking where I was going.” She looked up, noticing the woman’s bright green earrings sticking out from under her brown newsboy cap.
“Just get out of my way,” the woman snapped, suddenly aware of Melody standing next to her. She turned away, pulling the hat farther down over her face and jumping up. Melody caught a glimpse of a small butterfly tattoo under the index and middle fingers of the woman’s right hand.
She muttered something, pushing away Melody’s extended arm, and jogged down the stairs into a throng of tourists. Melody watched her continue her fast trek—within seconds the woman was enveloped by the crowd moving along the busy San Francisco sidewalk. I guess I didn’t hurt her. She bent to pick up the box, holding her breath, and opened it, sighing with relief; the dark chocolate brownie truffles looked relatively unharmed, the pink sprinkles decorating the tops mostly intact. She smiled in silent gratitude then looked back to the street, where the woman had disappeared into the crowd on Mission Boulevard.
A voice startled Melody, speaking in a smooth French accent, “I saw you and the other lady heading towards each other, I was afraid you were going to be hurt,” a man in black slacks, a white shirt and a dark red vest said, as he descended the steps towards her. His salt and pepper hair was cut short, and his heavy, white eyebrows were furrowed together.
Melody blushed, feeling a bit ridiculous. “I’m running late and was looking at my feet, instead of where I was going. I should know better. I’m carrying so many things, I was afraid I would fall or drop something.”
The man’s words rolled off his tongue, “It is not a problem, Mademoiselle, I do not want any accidents to interfere with the enjoyment of your trip. I am Pierre, the manager of this hotel.”
His voice relaxed Melody, and she took in a deep breath as she picked up her luggage. “Nice to meet you, I’m Melody Note. I’m here for the Create Conference.”
“Which has only just started—or is about to start,” Pierre smiled warmly and took her suitcase from her. “You may not be late after all. This way.” He opened his arm and gestured toward the lobby as Melody walked through the glass doors. She smiled appreciatively as she stepped into the expansive lobby of the Grand Plaza, gulping and making a mental note not to look awestruck. This has to be the fanciest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. This is not the local B&B of my college road trip days. She stared at the decor and the layout of the impressive hotel, trying not to ogle.
Huge beige marble tiles lined the floor and the ceiling was at least thirty feet high, with massive windows lining the wall, letting in the morning sun. The natural light bounced off the European art on the walls, and bouquets of exotic flowers, three feet high, decorated the center table. To the left was a long hall, with signs for various ballrooms and events; on the right was an ornate staircase leading to the second floor, a sign with the words ’Create Conference’ pointing up the steps. Beyond that was a bar and a small coffee lounge.
“Oliver!” Pierre called out from behind her. A young man came out from behind the front desk, his suit looking a size too big for his tall, gangly body. He smiled broadly, his dark eyes sparkling as he walked over.
He reached out and shook Melody’s hand, “I am Oliver, at your service.”
Pierre looked sternly at the young man. “Oliver, take Ms. Note’s bag, label it, and set it in the security room. Ms. Note is attending the conference and will be checking in with us later.”
Oliver grinned boyishly, showing broad rows of white, shining teeth. His eyes sparkled as he made a half bow and took her bags. Melody clutched the box of chocolates tightly. I’d have an easier time giving up my clothes than these truffles!
She cleared her throat, “Please be careful with this box, it has edible items in it. I’ll be putting it in my refrigerator in the hotel room.” She bit her lip as she reluctantly handed them over.
“I will be most careful with your belongings,” Oliver said, making a sweeping gesture with his arm. He disappeared into a room behind the front lobby counter.
Pierre said, “We will keep your items in our security room with your name on it. You’re staying with us? Check in today?” Melody nodded twice.
“Very good,” he continued. He walked behind the counter and quickly typed something on the computer keyboard. “Come and see me. I will make sure you and your belongings get to your room this afternoon.”
They crossed the lobby, Melody feeling her chest relax. She inhaled slowly, trying to decrease her rapid heart rate.
Pierre pointed down the hall. “Go up those stairs. There are signs pointing the way to the Diamond ballroom. Coffee is against the wall.”
Melody thanked him and followed his directions, taking deep breaths. I’m finally here! I’ve waited for months for this conference and it starts today. Her mind ran through the list of speakers and workshops she’d be attending. She smiled to herself at the people she would meet and, she hoped, the new friends she would make.
Melody could hear the smattering of polite applause from down the hall as the first speaker took the stage, and she quickened her stride up the stairs, approaching the registration table. She smiled at the woman, handed her ticket over, and rocked back and forth just slightly as they looked for her name.
The woman gave Melody a laminated Create Conference badge and pointed to the door at the end of the hall, “The attendees are going through an icebreaker activity right now. Pull out your business cards and get in line. It’s ‘Speed Networking.’ ”
Melody’s heart fell into her stomach and her desire to get into the ballroom came to an immediate halt. “Speed networking? You mean I have to talk to people?”
“Oh, it’s a blast,” the woman said, and waved Melody on as she helped the next person in line.
Melody stood frozen, processing this information. Jiminy Crickets, don’t we get a gentle warm up? I wanted to meet people slowly, not go into this like a cowgirl at a rodeo. Speed networking? I’d never even do speed dating!
Melody’s breathing sped into hyperventilation as she thought about talking to other people about her book and blog. Her normal preparation before a presentation was to take a few minutes to be quiet, then review only a bulleted outline of her notes, and finally, breathe in deeply three times. It’s what she always did, and it calmed her nerves down immediately. Without her usual buffer, her nerves shook like jelly.
A tap on the shoulder from the woman behind her forced Melody to take a step down the table, but she didn’t move any farther than that. She dug into the pocket of her light blue jeans. An extra layer of lipstick always boosts the confidence level.
“Sounds intriguing. I’m glad I remembered my business cards,” Melody said, more to herself than the woman at the desk who was pointing her to the door. She picked up her bag and moved towards it, her feet feeling as if she were wearing combat boots and trying to slog her way through a miry mud hole.
There was a tall mirror by the door, and Melody took a quick glance at herself to make sure no bits of the energy bar she had eaten on the way up were stuck in her teeth. She flipped her curly hair behind her shoulders—it was getting longer, hitting a few inches above her bra strap in the back. Her wardrobe was simple and chic, a white fitted blazer over a pink t-shirt, faded jeans and pale turquoise heels, and her jewelry was light, dangly and silver—all pieces from Natalie’s, her new employer’s, jewelry line. Raising the tube that was still in her hand, she applied a layer of her favorite lipstick, Perfect Plum, and stuck back into her pocket, taking her business cards from her purse.
Melody took a deep breath, walked to the doors, pushed them open a few inches, and peeked in. Women stood in two long lines that weaved loosely in and around the tables along the perimeter of the room, most talking to whoever was directly across from them. She bit her lip and stepped back from the door.
Her initial excitement was eclipsed by a rush of nervousness. A maddening rush of nervousness. Everyone looks so polished, so together. Melody felt herself beginning to sweat, her whole body feeling shaky. Besides Brandon, her new kind-of boyfriend, and her friends in the Friday Friends Dinner Club, she had told few people about her creative dreams. I should have practiced more before I left. These women have probably started their own creative businesses, and here I am with my fledgling blog!
She took another breath, shaking her head, and pinched her arm. Knock it off! This is a dream come true. You can do this Melody.
Fearful her insecurities would overwhelm her gumption, Melody tried not to let her emotions get the better of her. She shoved the door open again, this time with more gusto, and to her dismay someone on the other side gasped. A thump followed.
“Oh my word,” Melody cried. Heart racing, she peered around the door and winced at the scene on the floor. For the second time that morning, she had knocked someone over.
Dread filled Melody as she slid inside the room without pushing the door open another inch. A woman dressed in a traditional white chef’s outfit was on her hands and knees, quickly picking up bonbons and truffles.
“Jiminy Crickets, I’m so sorry.” Relieved she hadn’t knocked the woman unconscious, Melody flung her purse and blog cards on the ground and kneeled to help the server up. I’ve knocked down two people in an hour. Is this a horrible sign? Can I please have a restart on this day?
The woman shook her head, scowling, her perfectly shaped brows prominent on her fair face. “Hullo! You opened that door with a gust of energy. My bonbons went flying all over the floor, thank goodness there were only a few left.” Her hair was short, pulled back into a short bun, with grey wisps around her ears. Her rectangle metal name tag said ’Greta.’
“I’m sorry,” Melody repeated as she crawled on the ground, grabbing the remaining bonbons. “I was so nervous to come in, the attendees are doing something called speed networking and I don’t even do speed dating, let alone that. Then I just decided not to be afraid and go for it and I—well, I gave it a bit too much of a shove. Are you okay? Are you hurt?” Melody’s thoughts merged together. She looked anxiously at the woman as she put the last of the truffles on the tray.
Both women stood and faced each other. Greta’s expression softened a bit with Melody’s confession. “Don’t move so fast mon amie, enjoy the moment. I am not hurt. You didn’t knock me down; you simply nudged me, and I rolled after my desserts like a ball of dough.” She held up a finger, “I must be back attending to my chocolate croissants.”
Greta disappeared through the door, leaving Melody standing just inside the ballroom, still a bit stunned. She retrieved her purse and blog cards and looked around the room at the activity. Did she just compare herself to a roll of dough? Jiminy Crickets. No one else seemed to have noticed the accident, and the hum of the room was loud with all the rapid conversations flying back and forth.
Melody moved past a few tables and found the end of the line. A woman at the front of the room yelled, “Okay, ladies in line one, move down three people.”
For two seconds, Melody considered hiding in the coffee lounge, sipping a hot mocha and coming back after the networking thing was over. It might be safer for the conference attendees if I don’t come into direct contact with actual people. She set her purse on a seat without any others on it and wiped her sweaty palms on a napkin. She looked up, catching the eye of a woman who was moving down the line.
“Hey there, you can break in here,” she called. Melody smiled a thank you and walked over, slipping into line across from her. She reluctantly took the business card from her hand. “There’s only two minutes to talk before we move again,” the woman said.
Melody nodded and began to listen as the woman talked about her surface pattern business. Her gold hoop earrings dangled and danced as she described her creative business, designing and selling quirky and upbeat pattern designs—woodland animals, funny-faced flowers and dancing elephants—to different companies that put them on everything from rain boots to dining room placemats. She spoke rapidly, waving her hands as she talked, the gold bangles on her arms dancing as much as her earrings. The upbeat energy quickly swept Melody away. She listened and soon the timer went off, signaling that it was time to move to the next person.
Not only did the attendees want to talk about their own creative endeavors, every woman was genuinely excited to hear what the stranger across from her was involved in. Women peppered Melody with questions about their baking frustrations as she told them about her blog, Baking from the Heart. The chatting turned to laughing and the line moved quickly with each call from the director on the stage. After twenty minutes, Melody was breathless from so much talking. All her nervousness had disappeared; she was having so much fun!
The director instructed everyone to find their seats, and Melody slipped her business card to the last woman she talked with before sitting down, her smile lingering on her face. She had six cards from other women in her hands, and she looked around the expansive Cerulean Ballroom, taking in the number of attendees at the Create Conference.
More than sixty tables of twelve people each surrounded the ballroom and stage in a half moon shape. Seven hundred women attended this event; the room was full, and few seats were left empty. Melody didn’t know anyone at her own table, and the women were talking to each other in twos and threes. She pulled her long, unruly curls around to her left shoulder and leaned back in her chair. It was fun to be able to enjoy the moment without worrying about working on a case, as she had been the last few weeks.
She had been consumed with hunting down Kristi’s stolen wedding dress. Kristi, Melody’s friend and a co-member of the Friday Friends Dinner Club, had begged her to find the dress after it was mysteriously snagged. In an intriguing turn of events, Melody discovered the dress was designed by 1920’s fashion designer Jean Patou, and worth thousands of dollars.
While tracking a suspect, she had connected with a woman named Taylor at a bridal party and they’d discovered that they would both be attending The Create Conference. Melody scanned the room for Taylor’s bright red bob but couldn’t find her.
She spotted the conference’s founder, Madge Poppins, the well-known and beloved artist and art book publisher, seated in front. It was hard to miss her A-line haircut, weaved with bold chunks of brown and gold. Her fingers flew on her iPad. She probably has a million details to attend to. Around the room were different faces Melody recognized from the blogs she visited, and the hair on her arms stood on end as she imagined sitting in their workshops hours from now.
The hum in the room came to an abrupt halt as Madge Poppins walked onto the stage. She looked out over the room and opened her hands, “Ladies, welcome to the Create Conference.” She wore a black leather jacket over a turquoise and purple dress, boots, and fun, chunky jewelry. “Before we begin with the first key note speaker, I want to present the stars of the conference this year.”
All eyes turned to Madge. She smiled and continued, “As you know, we have twelve designers who partnered with Swarovski to create 12 stunning pieces that will be auctioned off for the National Arts Endowment. It’s been the project of a lifetime to work with the artists on the designs, each worth thousands of dollars. I don’t think I can remember a project, when so much energy and creativity was poured into artistry. These pieces are truly one of a kind. This morning, we’re debuting six of the designs, called our Diamond Sky Collection. They’ll be sold next month, and the money donated to a foundation helping women in other countries start their own micro-businesses.”
Madge extended her arm to the right of the stage, where six women approached and climbed the stairs. Melody craned her neck to look at the jewelry. She was several feet away from the stage, but the necklaces were so brilliant she could see the vibrant jewels of each one. Every design was brilliant and bold; one woman wore big orange flowers made with dozens of yellow and orange colored jewels that swept around her neck, while another wore a necklace of abstract geometric shapes, arranged to look like the rays of the sun. Bits of jewels, like the edges of knives, radiated away from her neck in a jagged, dazzling array of green and gold.
Melody recognized several of the designers modeling their jewelry, and she mentally counted the women. She clapped enthusiastically as Madge introduced them. “We’re missing Vicki Latonne, this morning—she photographed all the women for the conference. Her flight was delayed; we’re hoping she’ll be here for this evening’s festivities when we share the other half of the jewelry, titled the Sunset Collection.”
From the corner of her eye, Melody noticed several doors opening. She turned to see four men in grey suits enter and stand in each corner of the room.
“Security,” a woman with a bright yellow scarf said. She leaned over towards Melody and nodded her head at the men while tucking a piece of her long, straight auburn hair behind her ear. “The jewelry is worth over $25,000 per piece. I heard Madge had to call in a few favors to allow them to be presented here. The company sent them from New York, but they were concerned about damage to the jewels and, of course, theft.”
“I heard this is her last conference,” another woman next to her said as she handed Melody her card, advertising a business for painting murals. She gave her one of her own cards, and the woman tucked it into a small clutch.
Melody turned from the conversation at the table to watch the women as they paraded off the stage and walked to their seats, the jewelry still shining. They walked by Melody’s table, their faces reflecting the excitement she felt. One necklace caught her attention—it was a peacock, with the head wrapping around the neck while the other end fanned out in beaded feathers. Melody stretched to get a closer look, noticing it did not attach in the front.
“So modern and chic,” the woman next to Melody said, and she could only nod in agreement.
Several conference attendees whispered congratulations as the designers walked by: “Great job, Brianna.”
“Stunning design, Hilda.”
“I’ve said for years you should be designing high-end fashion jewelry, Naima.”
The women blushed, smiled, and nodded as they continued walking, mouthing their thanks and moving around the room and finally back to their seats. Melody sighed in contentment. What fun it would be to wear those designs. They’re all so pretty and brilliant. How could you NOT feel beautiful wearing those? She watched the women, trying to see where they were sitting so that she could get a better look at the jewelry later, and half paid attention to the whispered gossip at the table as she continued to listen to Madge talk. They obviously know each other. I’ll have to find people who came by themselves, like me. I wish Taylor and I had exchanged phone numbers when we met.
When the morning presentation concluded, Melody got up and said polite goodbyes to her table mates. From the stage, Madge encouraged everyone to head to their breakout sessions. Melody hung back, wanting to get another look at one or two of the necklaces close up, but the crowds of women didn’t let up and Melody couldn’t get through. Reluctantly, she backed off, promising herself to hunt down a few of the designers later to talk about her blog and business, and tell them how much she admired them.
Outside the mahogany doors stood a long table with coffee. Melody poured herself one in a porcelain cup, picked up the day’s activity and notes guide, and looked at her iPhone. Flipping the map of the hotel at the end of her lanyard over, she saw that she was back in the main room for her first session—a presentation on photography and styling photo shoots. Sipping her coffee, she slipped back into the room for the class. Please let there be a seat next to the door, she thought, looking around and spotting scattered empty seats to the center of the room. She found one on the aisle, sat down, leaned back in the chair and breathed a sigh of relief. Speed networking had worn her out, and now it was time to absorb.
Melody looked up to see one of her favorite artists and speakers arriving on stage. She pulled out her notebook, ready to write and balancing her coffee in her other hand, when another attendee stepped in and sat down next to her, jostling her elbow. Melody tried to regain her balance, but it was too late. Hot coffee splashed all over her notebook and lap.
She jumped up, biting her lip not to cry out as hot coffee scalded her thigh. Jiminy Crickets! What else will get knocked over this morning? She glanced at the woman, who was on her phone—she kept talking, not noticing what had happened. Melody sighed, silently said a prayer of thanks that her phone hadn’t been doused, and pushed her curls behind her ears. Not wanting to draw attention to herself, she scooped up her belongings and moved toward the door.
Ten minutes later, the wet notebook had been disposed of and the coffee spill was mostly cleaned up, though her skin was still slightly pink. Melody stood at the coffee table, debating whether another cup was worth the risk when an anxious voice caused her to snap to attention.
“What do you mean it’s gone missing?” The woman’s words dripped with tension.
Melody looked around. She was the only one in sight; all the attendees were in the breakout sessions, which had been underway for about ten minutes. She glanced to her right and noticed shadows dancing on the floor—whoever was talking was right around the corner.
“They’re missing. All the jewels in the Diamond Sky Collection are gone,” a second voice said.
“We just took them off the models and put them in the cases,” The first woman said, sounding exasperated. “How could they be missing?”
“I just went to check on them. Everything is gone. The cases are closed, but empty.”
The first voice took on a crisp tone, “Call the security men.”
The second voice dropped to a whimpering whisper. “I did. They said you cancelled their services, so they didn’t show up today. I don’t know who those men were in the room, but they weren’t security guards.”
Melody picked up a cup and ever so slowly poured coffee into it. If the two women rounded the corner, she wanted to have a perfectly innocent reason to be lingering in the hallway. She took her time adding creamer as the noise of a vacuum cleaner started up; a housekeeper was moving down the left side of the foyer.
Melody glanced back to the right, where the hall turned and there were more meetings rooms, and found the shadows gone. She peeked around the corner. No one was there, but the elevators were swishing closed.
Disappointed she hadn’t gotten to hear more of the conversation, Melody walked back to the ballroom.
This time she chose a seat without anyone near. She sipped her coffee and half listened to the speaker, Anna Tsieh, a popular food blogger and author, speak enthusiastically about styling a photo shoot without a photography studio. It was a large session; there were at least a hundred other women there. Realizing she couldn’t do anything about the conversation she’d overheard, Melody pulled out her back-up notebook and scribbled notes while Anna told her story and the life lessons she’d learned along the way.
Melody tapped her pen on the note pad as she took a break from writing, her mind mulling over the conversation she had overheard. Were they talking about the jewelry collections—the Diamond Sky and Sunset Collections?
Melody shook her head and tried to focus on Anna’s presentation, picking up her pen and jotting down a few more notes. She had three days to fill up her creative well, make new friends, and survive presenting her multi-media cookbook idea to the Pitch It panel. Solving a mystery was not on her agenda.
Melody had several proofs of her new cookbook in her suitcase, and copies of the mock multi-media digital cookbook in her bag. During the pitch sessions, she would be presenting to a panel of authors and publishers—if chosen, her cookbook would be picked up, and she would work with a team to produce the finished book. Not only that, but the winner would also be featured on The Food Network through some of Madge Poppins’s connections. It was a foodie blogger’s dream come true and would be happening in less than twenty-four hours. Between that and the conference, Melody’s plate was full.
A woman walked quickly in from the side door, Madge following behind. Her strides were longer, more confident and poised than the younger woman’s bounce and nervous energy. The young woman walked briskly, her long, sleek brown ponytail swishing with each step and the tablet in her hand swaying with her arm. She sat down, and Madge took the seat next to her. On stage, Anna was talking about social media, which left Melody completely disengaged. Her complete attention was now tuned to the two women’s interactions, as they whispered back and forth. Was it Madge and the young woman that I heard? That would make sense. She continued to watch Madge and the anxious woman conduct their quiet exchange.
The young woman got up again and Madge followed her, smiling demurely as she moved through the tables.
“Poor Madge,” a woman two seats away whispered. “I think this conference is a bit more than she meant to take on.”
Melody raised an eyebrow and scooted one seat over to hear the woman better. “I’d imagine a conference is a lot of work, but Madge seems to excel at whatever she does. Who is the woman with her, the one with the ponytail?” Melody nodded towards the brunette. “She looks familiar, but I can’t place her.”
The neighbor, whose name tag read ‘Lolita’, narrowed her eyes as she watched them walk out the door. “Oh! It’s Molly, her assistant. She’s also a blogger at PB & Jelly Designs.” She smiled at Melody, “Molly was a newbie when she came here last year. Now she’s on top of the world. She left her day job and is working her wholesale stationary and design business fulltime, and helping Madge put on this conference. Have you been here before?”
“My first time, I’ve been so excited,” Melody whispered, taking her last sip of coffee from the pale pink ceramic cup, and setting it gingerly on her lap.
Lolita nodded. “You’re in for a treat,” she whispered. “These events are filled with fabulous service and lots of fun swag. Madge says women work so hard, they deserve a few days of pampering.” The woman smiled, “The Create Conference is in its fourth year, a relative newbie in the world of conferences, but it’s the best in the creative industry. With the stress Madge has been under, I don’t think she’ll keep it going, though,” she said sadly, and turned back to face the stage.
Melody turned and looked at Madge, who was talking to a small cluster of women in the back corner of the room. She sighed, looking back around and into her empty cup. Sheesh, this could be my first and last Creative Conference. I’m sure glad I came this year.
Melody tried to focus on the speaker, Anna, as she progressed into talking about her growth from a teensy-weensy blog to a getting a million page views a month. No such luck—she couldn’t concentrate.
Melody eyed Madge and Molly as discreetly as she could, horrified someone would be audacious enough to snatch the jewelry in broad daylight. It’s another mystery. Good grief, lately everywhere I go I run into one. She replayed the conversation she’d heard outside over and over in her mind.
As she thought about the theft and what it could mean for Madge and the Create Conference, every ounce of her exhaustion disappeared. Even though this was supposed to be three days of creative inspiration, Melody felt strangely excited by the possibility of another mystery. Her internal voice pushed back, No one has asked for your help, and she squirmed in her chair, chewing her lip. That was true, but she could still keep her eyes and ears open. After all, this kind of scandal could rock the whole tone of the event.
The door to the ballroom opened quietly, and Melody saw Madge make her way back to the front of the room and sit down. She tried to avert her eyes back to the speaker, but found she couldn’t keep from staring at the back of Madge’s head.
Melody took a deep breath. Anna picked up her notes from the podium as she concluded her presentation with a motivating call to action for the attendees, and the room erupted into applause and a few whistles. Madge made her way onto the stage, kissing her cheeks as they passed each other, and looked out into the audience for a moment, not saying anything. Then she smiled, and Melody noticed that her eyes were not crinkling with the upturn of her mouth; a telling sign that she wasn’t smiling on the inside. Good old psychology 101, she thought, feeling a twinge of pain for Madge. The rumors she’d heard at the table—if they were true—did not bode well for her. If this is the last conference she’s doing, what a horrible way to end her career!
“Ladies, welcome again. We’re going to let you go for lunch, but first I have a few special words for you.”
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