Law And Author by Erika ChaseLaw And Author by Erika Chase

Law And Author

byErika Chase

Mass Market Paperback | September 1, 2015

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The author of Book Fair and Foul reconvenes the Ashton Corners book club to solve a murder in their own backyard . . .

Bob Miller, retired police chief and member of the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society, is stunned by the arrival of his twenty-one-year-old granddaughter, Darla, whom he has never seen. Bob has been estranged from his own daughter for decades and hopes to make up for his absence in Darla’s life. But some of the ladies of the book club find their Southern hospitality strained as they question the motives behind this sudden reunion.

After a dead man is found in Molly Mathews’s backyard, their concerns grow more serious. Lizzie Turner saw Darla arguing with the stranger the day before, but when the police question her, Darla proves to be an unreliable narrator. It’s up to the book club to uncover the real story . . . before another victim is written into the plot.
Erika Chase is the Agatha Award-nominated author of the Ashton Corners Book Club Mystery series, including Book Fair and Foul, Cover Story, Read and Buried, and A Killer Read.
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Title:Law And AuthorFormat:Mass Market PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 6.75 × 4.25 × 0.75 inPublished:September 1, 2015Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0425278204

ISBN - 13:9780425278208

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Rated 4 out of 5 by from More sleuthing in Ashton Corners As I continue on in my reading journey of the Ashton Corners Book Club Mystery series, I reflect on the journey to date. I have met interesting characters who seems to grow with each book in the series (I like that they are evolving…growth is good and keeps this reader engaged). Occasionally, I have found series tend to wane after a few books….but at book 5 I find this series going strong . Can’t wait for the next Ashton Corners Book Club Mystery book either! Having read the excerpt for the new series by Erika Chase writing as Linda Wiken at the back of this book….I can’t wait for that series as well. While the boys are away (love those all boy fishing weekends) the gals get together for what I commonly refer to as a “quack and flap”. During the course of the afternoon, a young woman (we come to know her as Darla Lyman) comes to the door looking for Bob Miller. Turns out she is his granddaughter (Bob and his daughter have been estranged for many, many years). While most of the women are skeptical of Darla and her motives for showing up now to meet “grandpa”, Molly and Bob are not. Shortly after, as is predictable (it is a cozy mystery after all)….a dead body is discovered on Molly’s property. Who is the murdered man? Does he have any association with Darla and if so, how? Along with Darla there are also a few other new faces in town from Atlanta…Darla’s boyfriend Wade for one. Now he is a piece of work. Wade and Darla together….a combo I really did not like. How does Wade fit in to this murder? I found the trail to the actual killer convoluted…but when revealed in the end….I had that “I should have known” moment. And isn’t that what a good murder mystery is all about…..keeping the reader guessing until the very end….  Poor Sally Jo; in the midst of planning her wedding, she is contending with the different views of her mother with respect to HER wedding. I could just feel Sally Jo’s angst. It is good that she has her good friends to keep her calm and realize what is truly important about her upcoming nuptials. This is just one example of the depth of the members of the book club. They support each other in addition to being a de facto sleuthing club. The evolution of Lizzie and Mike’s relationship is great. They are now fully entrenched as a dating couple. At times, I could sense Mike’s work habits as a source of contention for Lizzy, something that they need to work on going forward as a couple. They seem so well suited and I like how Mike is starting to think as a boyfriend and not just the police chief. He is now very protective of Lizzie in a personal way. The reading lists for each book club member is great. I love getting a list of books; which I am sure I will be interested in reading if I have not read that particular book yet. As a side note….did you notice that Brie and Edam are getting skinnier (on the cover art) each and every book! Wish my cat got a bit skinnier with age. I did mention this briefly to Erika Chase at the book launch for this book that occurred at the Library and Archives building in Ottawa during the last week of September 2015. I also had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Chase read a passage from this book. I will wait with baited breath for the next book in this delightful series. If you like picturesque towns, delightful townsfolk as well as an amateur sleuth (who is probably too smart for her own good), a nice boyfriend and good friends….then this cozy mystery is for you.
Date published: 2015-09-28

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AcknowledgmentsChapter OneWon’t it? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. Won’t we?THE CARE AND MANAGEMENT OF LIES—JACQUELINE WINSPEAR“I’m telling you right now, sugar, I’m leaning toward bumping off Clyde Worsten rather than having to deal with him one minute longer,” Teensy Coldicutt said with a dramatic sigh.Lizzie Turner almost dropped the mini triple chocolate cupcake she’d just rescued from the serving tray on the wicker patio table next to her. She shot a glance at Molly Mathews, who started laughing, much to Lizzie’s surprise.“Don’t look so distressed, Lizzie,” Molly said between chuckles. “Teensy’s talking about her new book, aren’t you?” She shifted her glance to her childhood friend of over sixty years.Teensy looked around at the three other women in Molly’s sunroom and burst out into her own deep belly laugh. “Oh, my. Of course your mind went straight to the worst, Lizzie. Being such a great fan of mysteries, and I might add, a dynamite crime fighter, I can see as that would happen. But Mopsy is right. Clyde Worsten was going to be the hero on my latest novel, Divine Secrets of Desire, but he’s not cooperating at all, at all. So, he’s either going to be the victim, or if he gets me really riled, I’ll turn him into a murderer. Serve him right if he has to spend the rest of his life in jail.”“Mopsy,” Sally-Jo Baker stated with a grin. “It still takes me by surprise sometimes when I hear you use Molly’s childhood nickname.”“And I didn’t know you were writing a mystery, Teensy,” said Lizzie.“Goodness gracious, of course not. My forte is romance and I’m into another hot plot I want you to know, but that doesn’t mean I can’t throw in a dead body or two if the characters don’t shape up and cooperate.”Lizzie shook her head. “I’d heard that writers talk about their characters taking over a story.”Teensy leapt up from the white wicker love seat with more energy than most women her size. Her hairstyle, a dramatic wedge, had changed since the last time her friends had seen her, from a bright orange-red to a vivid dark red with a broad white streak sweeping across her brow. The black leggings, smock-necked orange and green long-sleeved blouson, and four-inch sandals contrasted with Molly’s classic cream ensemble of casual pants and silk blouse. Lizzie marveled at the many differences between the two longtime friends.“Oh, believe me, they do,” Teensy said. “And, I’m just bursting to tell you both about my news.”Molly looked up from the Wedding Bells magazine she was perusing. “You have a publisher?”“Right in one, Mopsy. Remember poor Nick Jennings, the editor at Crawther Publishing? Well, it looked like he needed someone to talk to when he was in town after that tragedy last fall, so I befriended him, and one thing led to another.”Molly wasn’t able to suppress her gasp. “No.”“Oh, Molly. There’s hope for you yet, but that’s not what I meant. We started talking about writing, and I told him of the great success my first book had garnered around here, and he said he’d take a look at my new manuscript. So, maybe it’s not a done deal but I know that when he reads the first three chapters and synopsis I’ve just sent him, I’ll be signing on the dotted line.”Lizzie fervently hoped that would be the case. Of course, she knew nothing about Crawther Publishing and their lines, except for the mysteries they had showcased at the book fair held in Ashton Corners last fall. But, she had read Teensy’s first book, which had been co-published with a local printer, and Lizzie wondered if it would have met the criteria of an established publisher like Crawther.“We’re wishing you loads of luck with that Teensy,” said Sally-Jo, choosing a pecan swirl from the tray of sweets. “This is really a nice idea, Molly, having us over for a girls’ afternoon while the guys are out fishing.”“I thought so,” Molly agreed. “It’s a wonder, though, that Bob, Jacob and even Mark were all able to find a free weekend in common to get away.”Lizzie nodded, knowing only too well that her significant other, Mark Dreyfus, didn’t often take an entire weekend off from his job as police chief of Ashton Corners, Alabama. She was pleased he’d decided to go, knowing how hard he’d been working for some time now without a real break.Teensy walked over to the table and chose a sugar cookie. Rather than eating it, she held it in her hand and started pacing. “Well, let’s just hope they have lots of luck and we can indeed have that fish barbecue they’re promising when they come home tomorrow.”“What has gotten into you today, Teensy?” Molly asked. “You’ve either got ants in your pants or you’ve had way too much coffee.”“I have all these ideas floating around in my head and I’m just trying to shake them into some sort of order,” replied Teensy, waving her hands in emphasis. “I need to harness all this energy and do something.”“I thought writing was taking up most of your time.”“Oh, it is but that doesn’t mean I can’t do others things also. I think I write best if I’m under pressure and a deadline.”“You also have the writing course you’re running, I might remind you. How much more do you want on your plate? And how is the course going, by the way?”Teensy perched on the edge of the love seat. “As well as it should, I guess. There are mostly women enrolled although I do have one elderly man. He’s a bit too old for my taste, must be at least seventy-five if he’s a day, but he does have a good sense of humor. Anyway, to most of the others in the class it’s a social afternoon out. Oh sure, they do the homework exercises I give them but not many are trying their hand at writing anything else. And that’s what this whole course is for. I wanted to help others find themselves and explore their inner writers.”Sally-Jo leaned over to touch Teensy’s hand. “I can see that you’d be frustrated, Teensy. I’d bet there’s a lot of preparation time that goes into it, too.”“Not really,” Teensy admitted, with an embarrassed grin. “I put the outline together by looking at other courses, and then I found tips and suggestions from a whole slew of books on writing. It was easy, really. I think I’m even learning a few things, too.”“Why that’s just great,” Molly said with enthusiasm. “And even if you don’t turn out a Pulitzer winner, at least they’re all doing something they must be enjoying.”“Oh, for sure.” Teensy sighed. “I guess I’m just being silly. There is one gal, though, who has lots of promise and she’s working her way through writing a novel. I’m trying to help her as best I can.”She sounded a bit hesitant to Lizzie.“Well, that’s all to the good,” said Molly. “Now is there anything else that’s got you so bothered?”“That’s just it, I do not have an iota of an idea why I’m so antsy these days. Maybe it’s a touch of spring fever. But I feel like I need something else to be getting involved in. You don’t have another body hidden away somewhere that needs a heaping of justice, do you?”Molly shuddered. “Heavens no. And don’t you go jinxing us now, Teensy Coldicutt. Things have been nice and quiet with the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society for a while now, aside from the occasional verbal fracas with a certain stubborn retired police chief, that is.”“Pshaw. I do believe you enjoy the sparring just as much as that old dog does, Mopsy.”Lizzie turned away from them quickly before Molly could see her face. Teensy had hit the nail on the head but Molly was still in denial. Bob Miller and Molly had known each other since childhood and although their lives had taken such different paths, the ties were maybe even stronger. Much as between Molly and Teensy. That was the wonderful thing about small towns.“What about doing some volunteer work?” Lizzie asked. “I’m sure you’d fit right in with the reading program the school board promotes in elementary schools. You go in and read to various groups of kids. Usually they’re ones having trouble with their reading skills or maybe they have short attention spans. And, you can choose the days and times you’d like to be involved. I think you’d be really good at that, Teensy.”Sally-Jo nodded. “You’d certainly be able to hold their attention, Teensy. I think you’d give very colorful readings.”Teensy’s face lit up in a smile. “You could be right, girls. I’ll look into that. Thank you.”“You’re welcome,” they answered in unison and broke into laughter.Molly reached for the empty pitcher of iced tea. “I’m betting y’all would like some more.” She paused before going into the kitchen. “Now don’t say anything important until I get back.”“We’ll just talk about you behind your back, Mopsy,” Teensy called out. “Nothing important, though.”Molly made a face at Teensy as she came back outside. She offered to refill Sally-Jo’s glass. “I know I’m real anxious to hear where you’re at with your wedding plans, Sally-Jo.”Sally-Jo flipped the cover shut on the magazine on her lap and held it up to them. Premier Bride. “This is about as far as I’ve gotten. Thumbing through all these magazines. Who knew there were so many focused on wedding planning? Jacob and I are thinking small but my folks are thinking big. I’m not quite sure what to do.”“Well, I’m enjoying looking through all these here magazines,” Molly said. “It sure brings back memories although we didn’t go searching through catalogues for a wedding dress in my day.”Lizzie looked at her with interest. “What did you do? Go to a big city for a day of shopping?”“Not at all. My mama had wanted me to wear her dress but it had gotten damaged over the years, despite her careful packing away of it. So, she had a local dressmaker come in, suggest a style, and take my measurements. We agreed on the material and a few months later, I had my dress. And I just loved it.”Lizzie nodded. “It looks wonderful in your photos. Maybe that’s what you should suggest, Sally-Jo.”Sally-Jo had her finger marking a page in her magazine. She opened it and showed it to the others. “So tell me truthfully, what about the style of this dress?”Lizzie leaned closer for a better look. She tried not to sound too critical. “I don’t really think it’s you, Sally-Jo. I somehow can’t picture you in a mermaid look. I’d think something more elegant and flowing. Sorry.”“That’s quite all right. In fact, I was hoping you’d say something like that. My mama, however, loves this dress. In fact, she told me to go out and buy this magazine and have a look at this particular one.” Sally-Jo sighed. “It’s not me but I know just how pushy Mama can be. And I’m afraid I just might end up walking or rather waddling down the aisle in this.”“Can’t you just go out shopping and buy a dress on the sly?” Teensy asked, a devilish twinkle in her eye. “We’d all be as happy as a puppy with two tails to go with you.”Molly glanced at Teensy. “That’s not being very sensitive to her mama’s role in all this. It’s as important a day for her as it is for Sally-Jo.” She raised her glass toward Sally-Jo and smiled. “But, honey, we would be very pleased to help you out with this.”“Oh, no. Mama wants me to come home over Easter break and she’ll book appointments in all the bridal salons in Fort Myers. She’ll summon the sisters, too. She’s even offered to pre-shop for me to narrow it down and make the decision easier.”Sally-Jo looked so gloomy and defeated that Lizzie wanted to give her a big reassuring hug. “What do you want?”A small smile crept across her face. “I’m sort of leaning to a strapless dress on the shorter side, maybe falling just below the knees and with an empire waist.”“Ah, sugar, that’s so totally right for a petite gal like you,” Teensy said with a giggle. “And with your skin tone, the white will look perfect. That’s the only problem with being a redhead of the bottle—I admit to it—the skin tone doesn’t come with it.”“I think that sounds like a wonderful choice,” Molly’s voice rang with enthusiasm.“Thanks, Molly. Maybe I can get you to brainwash my mama.”“Maybe it’s just the initial excitement. I’m sure she wants whatever will make you happy.”Sally-Jo shrugged. “You don’t know Mama. There’ll be no resting until I have a dress chosen and tucked away in my closet.”Lizzie started to say something but was interrupted by the ringing of the front doorbell. She looked at Molly, who had settled back in a lounge chair, and said, “I’ll get that for you.”“Thank you, honey.”Lizzie went through to the foyer to the front door and peered through the peephole to see a young woman standing there. She pulled open the door.“Hey. May I help you?”The girl with the Miley Cyrus hairstyle looked to be in her late teens or early twenties. She wore trendy skinny jeans and a silver distressed-style leather jacket along with a black shirt and multicolored beads around her neck. She tried to peer past Lizzie.When that didn’t work she crossed her arms and stated, “I’m looking for Bob Miller.”It sounded like a challenge to Lizzie.Chapter Two“Don’t underestimate me.”GRACE TAKES OFF—JULIE HYZYMolly suddenly appeared at Lizzie’s side. “Who do we have here?” she asked.“I’m not sure,” Lizzie replied. “She’s looking for Bob.”“And who might you be?” Molly asked the stranger.“My name is Darla Lyman. Who might you be?”Lizzie stiffened at her tone. She did not like any disrespect shown when it came to Molly but before she had a chance to say anything, Molly answered, “I am Molly Mathews and this is my house.”The expression on Darla’s face changed immediately. She was all smiles. “Oh, how awesome. My grandmamma Sue-Ann told me all about you and I was hoping you could tell me where my granddaddy is.”“Bob Miller is your granddaddy?” Molly’s face looked as shocked as she sounded. “You’re Sue-Ann’s granddaughter?”“That’s right, although she passed last year. My mama is Lily Lyman.” Darla suddenly looked like she would cry. “I had a bit of a disagreement with her. I need to find my granddaddy. Do you know where he is?”Molly eased past Lizzie and put an arm around Darla’s shoulder, escorting her into the hall. “Yes, I do. He’s out of town for the weekend on a fishing trip but will be back tomorrow afternoon. Do you want to come in and join us? I have a few friends in for some afternoon tea. This is Lizzie Turner, by the way.”Darla glanced from Lizzie to Molly and then back again. She nodded and said, “Hey.”“It’s nice to meet you,” Lizzie answered.Darla said, “The same. Maybe I’ll stop by for just a short while. I’m sort of thirsty,” she directed at Molly.Molly smiled and led her through the kitchen and out to the patio. Lizzie followed, noting how Darla had a good look, although fleeting, around her as they moved along the large open foyer, through the updated kitchen, and out the back door.“Ladies, I’d like you to meet Darla Lyman, Bob’s granddaughter.”Sally-Jo looked surprised and took a few seconds to absorb the information before she leapt up and walked over to shake Darla’s hand. “It’s so nice to meet you. I’m Sally-Jo Baker. Bob will be so surprised to see you.”Darla nodded. “I’m sure. We’ve never met. In fact, I didn’t know anything about him until just before grandmamma died. Then she told me.” She looked over at Teensy who had remained seated but was smiling. “Nice to meet you, ma’am.”Teensy nodded. “And you. I’m Teensy Coldicutt.”Darla stifled a laugh. She looked back at Molly, missing Teensy’s frown. But Lizzie saw it and went to sit next to her on the love seat.“My name is not a laughing matter,” Teensy hissed under her breath.Lizzie touched her hand briefly.Darla accepted the glass of iced tea that Molly handed her and sat in one of the wicker chairs facing the backyard. “This is such a beautiful place you have here, Ms. Mathews.”“Why thank you, Darla. And please call me Molly.”Darla smiled sweetly at Molly. “Is all that property back there yours?”“It does go back a ways,” Molly acknowledged.Sally-Jo passed the plate of sweets to Darla and asked, “It’s nice you’re able to come to finally meet your granddaddy.”Darla took two lemon-almond bars and finished one before answering, “Well, I’ve been curious since I found out about him. This seemed like a good time to come and get to know him.”“Why now?” asked Teensy, adding her own sweet smile to the mix.Darla hesitated a moment. “Oh, you know how mamas and daughters can be. We had a falling out and I thought it best to hightail it for a while.”“Oh, that’s too bad, sugar,” Teensy said, leaning forward in her seat. “I know all about mamas and daughters. What was it about, if you don’t mind my asking?”Darla thoroughly chewed her second bar and swallowed before answering. “A guy. She didn’t like my choice of boyfriend. Of course, she never liked any of them but this time I thought, I’m a grown woman of twenty-one. It’s time I made my own decisions. So I decided to leave.”“You left your sweetie, too?”“Oh, it’s just a temporary thing. He understands, it’s all for the good. We’ll be together again. I just have to sort some things out first.” She looked at her watch. “Oh, look at the time. I have to get going. I’m sorry I didn’t get to see granddaddy but it was just so nice meeting all of you.”She grabbed her small backpack and was headed to the back door when Molly scurried up beside her. “I’ll tell you what. We’re having a barbecue here tomorrow late afternoon and Bob will be here for that. Why don’t you come by and join us?”Darla’s face lit up. “Really? That’s awesome. Thanks so much.” She marched into the kitchen with Molly close behind her.Nobody said anything for a few moments until Teensy broke the silence.“Humpf. Well, what do you think of that?”“Quite a surprise,” Sally-Jo said. “I’ll bet Bob will be thrilled, though.”“I’m sure he will be,” Lizzie answered. She was feeling a bit off balance about it all but couldn’t put her finger on what bothered her. “What did you think of her?”“She seemed nice, for lack of more information to judge her by,” Sally-Jo said.Lizzie looked over at Teensy.“Well, if you really want to know what I think,” Teensy said sitting upright in her seat, “I’m not sure as I trust her.”Molly stepped back out onto the patio and stopped in her tracks. “Are you talking about Darla?”Teensy nodded.“Well, Teensy, I think that’s a bit ungenerous of you. We hardly know the child and she seems so eager to see her granddaddy.”“What’s the story, anyway?” Sally-Jo asked. “I mean, I know Bob’s wife left him and took their daughter but that’s about it.”Molly sat back down and took a minute before answering. “Well, Sue-Ann never did like living on a police officer’s salary. So much for love, etcetera. So, she planned it all very carefully, right down to finding a job in Atlanta, and then left one morning without even a good-bye. She left a note for Bob to find when he came off duty. She filed for a divorce and then up and married a banker, very snappy like. Poor Bob was still reeling from her leaving. And, she wouldn’t let Bob have anything to do with their daughter, Lily, either. She treated him very cruelly.”“What a piece of work,” Teensy snarled.Molly nodded. “I think Darla is just what Bob needs in his life at this point.”“I could suggest some other things, too,” Teensy said, a twinkle in her eye.Molly blushed and filled her glass before sitting down. “We’ll see.”*   *   *Lizzie made sure the covered dish holding the potato salad she’d made for the barbecue sat securely in the cloth bag, then did a last-minute check on her two cats. They sat at the top of the stairs, steady as two ornaments, watching intently. “I’m out for a couple of hours, kids, but we’ll have time for a cuddle when I get home. I need to get some reading done before bedtime.”That seemed to satisfy them and they stood up in unison, stretched and headed toward the bedroom. Lizzie grinned. Nice to be wanted.She thought about the lunch she’d shared with her mama earlier in the day out at Magnolia Manor, the long-term care residence where Evelyn Turner had lived for nearly fifteen years. She hoped her mama realized how much Lizzie loved her.Today had been a good day even though it was a shorter than usual visit. Evelyn had seemed tired and she’d actually smiled at Lizzie as she reminisced about one of their many family picnics in Glendale Park. However, the drooping eyelids and nodding head cued Lizzie that an early-afternoon nap was in order.Lizzie hadn’t missed a weekend visit, unless she was out of town, which happened less often these days. She thought back to her first years as a reading specialist with the Ashton Corners School Board. She’d made it a point to spend two weeks of her summer vacation overseas. She’d visited France, Italy and Portugal and although there were still many countries on her list, she hadn’t strayed far from home since Mark came into her life. That realization came as a big surprise to her.Lizzie pulled into Molly’s driveway and parked next to Bob’s old black Dodge pickup. She was pleased to see that the boys had indeed returned, although Mark had sent her a text while they were on the road so she did have a heads-up. Stephanie Lowe had picked up Andie Mason in her well-worn but new-to-her Ford Fiesta. Lizzie waited for them while they unloaded Stephanie’s fifteen-month-old baby, Wendy, and all her equipment and helped carry some of it inside.Molly met them at the door and after hugs all around, ushered them into the kitchen. “You won’t believe the size of the bass the boys have caught. We’re barbecuing two of the larger ones tonight and Bob has kindly brought one for my freezer.”Lizzie put her dish on the counter next to the array of salads that were already set out. Stephanie gave Wendy to Andie to hold while she unwrapped the red velvet cake she’d made for dessert.“Oh, my, Stephanie, you’re getting to be quite the baker,” Molly said, eyeing the plate.“I’m enjoying it so much,” Stephanie said. “I actually find it relaxing after a day of working at the bookstore. And I can keep an eye on Wendy in her playpen while I’m at it.”“Isn’t Roger coming?” Lizzie asked, wondering how things were going between Stephanie and her new boyfriend. They’d been dating for about six months but the book club didn’t get to see much of him. It seemed he was often busy whenever a social event came around although they’d all had a chance to meet him at Christmas. Lizzie had been happy that Stephanie seemed to have found a really nice, level-headed young man but she hoped they wouldn’t be rushing into anything. It appeared she needn’t have worried“He’s working. They were shorthanded at Walgreens and called him this morning. He sends his apologies, though, Molly.”“That was thoughtful of him,” Molly answered, glancing outside to see what Bob was up to. “I think Bob has set up all the extra tables. Maybe you gals would take out these tablecloths. I’m thinking we’ll do it buffet-style using two tables and then set the other two for a sit-down meal.”Sally-Jo and her fiancée, Jacob Smith, came around the corner of the house as Lizzie brought out the cutlery and napkins.“The fish are inside,” Bob called over to Jacob. “They’ve been cleaned and seasoned and are ready to go. I think they’re looking mighty impressive.”“I’m impressed,” Lizzie said. “I thought y’all might just be having too much fun to bother with fishing.”“Dang it, Lizzie. Fishing is serious business,” Bob answered. “It takes a lot of concentration finding just the right spot and then waiting it out, you know.”“He’s right,” Jacob agreed. “It’s almost like a science. And Bob here makes a masterful teacher.”“You’re not a fisherman by nature?” Molly asked.“No ma’am. My daddy didn’t do too much in the way of outdoor sports. His chosen method of relaxing was sitting with a brew in hand watching a game of some sort on TV. I never did any fishing until Bob goaded me into it.” He grinned.“And you should be mighty grateful,” Bob said. “You’re now able to keep you and your wife-to-be in fresh fillets, if need be. A modern-day provider of meals to your family.”“Oh, no,” Sally-Jo groaned. “I think a fish meal a month is enough for me.”Bob pretended to be shocked.“I’m a once-a-week man, myself,” Mark Dreyfus said as he rounded the corner, carrying a case of Coors beer.Lizzie turned to him with a wide smile on her face. It felt more like a week rather than just a couple of days since she’d talked to him. He gave her a quick kiss, then deposited the beer on one of the tables that had been set up as a bar.“So, you had a profitable time,” she said to him.“Yeah. It was good in many ways. Lacking in some,” he added softly, giving her waist a squeeze.She felt a flutter in her chest.Molly came outside, a plate of ham-and-greens crostini in one hand. She was followed by Stephanie, who was carrying two dishes of appetizers, and Andie carrying Wendy. “I see we’re all here, except for Teensy,” Molly said. “Perhaps you gentlemen would be so good as to serve the liquid refreshment.”They were settling all down in the garden chairs, drinks and plates of appetizers in hand, when the kitchen door burst open and Teensy stepped outside holding a large glass plate of fresh fruit.“My apologies for being late,” she said, careful not to trip walking down the two stairs in her four-inch-heeled pink sandals. In fact, she wore a variety of shades of pink, all of which contrasted boldly with her red hair.“I stopped by the Winn-Dixie to pick up this here fruit platter I’d ordered and I got to talking with Bernice Waller. Did y’all know that Frida Moreland is opening a dressmaking shop?”“I did not know that,” Molly said. “Now why do you suppose she’s doing that? I thought she was happy working for Maisie. I wonder if there’s enough business for another one.”Teensy shrugged and sat down beside Stephanie on the wicker settee and accepted a glass of white wine from Bob, who had jumped up to pour it for her. “Why thank you, Bob. I gather the fishing was a success?”“You bet. You’re about to enjoy the best fresh barbecued bass you’ve ever had.”Teensy laughed. “I can hardly wait.”Molly glanced at her watch. Bob said, “You keep checking the time, Molly. Are you planning something special?”Molly looked over at Lizzie. “You could say that.” She stood and passed around the plate of crostini. “I’m just wondering when we should start the barbecue going.”“Now, don’t you worry about anything. It’s all under control. Can I refresh your drink?”“No, thank you. I’m quite all right. Should I bring out some more cheese?”Everyone murmured that there was quite enough food all ready.“You seem a tad jittery today, Molly,” Bob observed. Molly shrugged and passed around the tray of deviled eggs.Stephanie spread a blanket on the lawn and set Wendy down to crawl around. “She’s getting to be so big,” Bob said. “She’ll be walking any day now.”“She’s already trying,” Stephanie said with a laugh. “I’m busy hiding all my breakables.”“That’s just the start of it.”“How would you know?”They all turned to see who had asked the question. Standing at the corner of the house was Darla.“Sorry,” she said with a small smile, “that didn’t quite come out right. I didn’t mean to accuse you. I was just trying to be funny. Sorry.”Bob stood quickly but seemed at a loss what to say. Molly hurried over to Darla’s side. She slid her arm around her shoulders and said, “Now, we’re all good-natured here. So don’t you worry about it. Come on in and meet everyone. You already know Teensy, Lizzie and Sally-Jo.”Darla nodded but wouldn’t look any of them in the eye. Lizzie almost felt sorry for her until she noticed the quick look of self-satisfaction on Darla’s face.Molly introduced the book club members, saving Bob for last. She tugged Darla over to him.“And this is Bob Miller. Bob, you might want to sit down. This is your granddaughter, Darla Lyman.”Bob looked stunned. He couldn’t seem to find his voice and indeed did sit down. At that moment, Lizzie thought he looked all of his seventy-odd years. Darla stood in front of him, stock-still, staring at him. Finally, Bob stood back up and cleared his throat.“I’m mighty pleased to meet you, Darla. I didn’t even know that Lily had herself a daughter. In fact, I don’t know anything about Lily’s life after she left here.” He stuck out his hand and after a second, Darla slipped her hand into his. And then she smiled.It was as if everyone had been holding their breaths, but that changed quickly and the chatter started up again.“What can I get you to drink?” Bob asked, still in a daze. “A soda?”She glanced over at the makeshift bar. “I’ll have some white wine.” She sat in Bob’s chair when he went to get it for her. He pulled over another wicker chair to sit next to her when he returned.“I just cannot believe it,” he said. “How old are you, anyway?”“I’m twenty-one, sir,” she said demurely and sipped her wine.Stephanie looked over and grinned. “I was nineteen when I came to town a couple of years ago. Are you visiting or planning on staying?”Darla glanced at Bob then back at Stephanie. “That all depends. I wanted a time-out from my mama and I decided I needed to meet my granddaddy.”Molly came by with the plate of deviled eggs. “Darla, tell him what you told me.”Darla nodded. “Well, I didn’t know anything about you either, not until my grandmamma told me last year, just before she died.”Bob sucked in his breath. “Sue-Ann is dead?”“Yes, sir. She had cancer, which spread quickly.” Darla sipped her wine. “I asked my mama to tell me all about her childhood but she said she didn’t remember you.” Bob winced.“I can imagine. She was only five when they moved away.”“Well, mama said you never tried to see her.”“That’s not true. I sent her presents for her birthday and cards and even tried phoning a time or two but Sue-Ann wouldn’t have any of it.” He sighed. “It’s a long story, Darla. Anyway, I’m happy you decided to find me.”“And, we’re all pleased you’re here tonight with us,” Molly said. “I think we’ll get the fish to cooking now, and then after supper, you two can start to get to know each other.”Chapter ThreeStop harassing me. Get out of town, or else.DAYS OF WINE AND ROQUEFORT—AVERY AAMESMonday. Start of a new school week. And only one week to go until Easter break. Lizzie smiled at her image in the mirror. The two weeks of Easter break were always welcome even though it hadn’t been a particularly taxing school year so far. As a reading specialist with the public school board, Lizzie’s home base was the Ashton Corners Elementary School, an easy ten-minute drive from her house or twice that time if she walked, which she sometimes did, especially the days she chose not to go for an early-morning run.This had been one of those days. Even though she’d not slept well and she knew the run would do her good, she decided to opt for a slow start, taking her time over breakfast, brushing both of her cats, Brie and Edam, after they’d finished off their own meals, and finally, a second espresso before getting ready for school.While she got dressed, in black slacks and a white-and-black-striped blouse, she mulled over her reason for tossing and turning part of the night. In one word, Darla.Bob had been delighted once they started talking, quick to get over his initial shock, and wanting to set things right with his only grandchild. Lizzie was happy for him but at the same time, she felt wary. Something just seemed a bit off about Darla although Molly certainly hadn’t felt the same way. In fact, she’d been most helpful in offering Darla a place to stay when it was decided that Bob didn’t have the space.“I wasn’t the only one who felt something odd going on,” Lizzie told the ever-curious Edam who had a paw in Lizzie’s handbag, searching for something unknown. “Out of there, baby,” Lizzie said, gently pulling her cat away from the bag. She set the cat down on the bed next to Brie, who had chosen the space for his grooming ritual.“Teensy definitely does not like the girl,” Lizzie continued. “Molly knows it, too. She kept sending Teensy ‘meaningful’ looks all evening.”Lizzie decided she’d give Teensy a call after school and compare notes. She’d also ask for Sally-Jo’s opinion if she saw her at school today. Maybe I’m just being silly.She did a final check in the mirror, deciding she’d pull her long brown hair back in a clip rather than wearing it loose. She had this ongoing internal debate about whether to cut it short. Part of her longed for a cute pixie look like Sally-Jo had, but then she reminded herself that style so suited her friend’s all-round petiteness. Lizzie had better stick with long or maybe go up a couple of inches to shoulder length. She stowed the continuing conversation for another time, then grabbed her handbag and ran lightly down the stairs. She found her school bag filled with her notes and some new reference books on the sofa desk in the hall, grabbed her house keys, and on the spur of the moment, her car keys and decided to drive to school.Her first appointment was with the single mother of a second grader who refused to read. In fact, from what the teacher had been saying, Darren John Sayers refused to do just about anything these days. They agreed that something must have happened within the past two weeks to bring out the belligerent streak in the onetime cheerful child. As far as they could tell, nothing had happened in school to upset him.His teacher, Sharlene, was hoping that Lizzie could find out in a roundabout way if anything had happened on the home front. They were reluctant to include the principal, Charles Benton, in on the process, knowing he’d be likely to get the mama’s back up and then nothing would be achieved. Lizzie smiled to herself at the thought of Benton trying anything that resembled tact when dealing with a person, be it teacher or parent. Oh well, rumor had it that this first year at the school would also be his last.Mrs. Flower Sayers sat stiffly on the chair outside Vice Principal Kim Lafferty’s office as Lizzie approached the room. She recognized the woman from a brief meeting in the fall. No one knew the story about Mr. Sayers but it didn’t really matter. Lizzie was concerned about the mama and child at the moment.“Mrs. Sayers, you’re early,” she said, holding out her hand.Sayers stood slowly and looked at Lizzie’s hand before shaking it. “I’m sorry. I was ready early and getting jittery just sitting around. Do you want me to go away and come back?”“No,” Lizzie said with a warm smile. “Come in, but you’ll have to give me a minute to get settled. Have a seat, please.” She gestured to the comfortable armchair that sat across from the desk.Sayers looked around the office as she sat down, placing her large handbag on the floor beside the chair.Lizzie put the folder with her notes on the desk, flicked on the desktop computer and sat down, watching Flower Sayers from the corner of her eye. Sayers looked uncomfortable and jittery, not good if Lizzie wanted to have a heart-to-heart with the woman.“Would you like some coffee?” Lizzie asked after glancing at the single-cup Keurig machine sitting on a side table.“Uh, no thank you. I’m fine. I’m just wondering what’s up about Darren John? Is he in some sort of trouble?”“No, ma’am. I wouldn’t say he’s in trouble, but rather, having trouble.”Sayers looked blank.“I’m not sure if you realize it but he’s refusing to read. In fact, he’s refusing to do anything he’s asked. I wonder if there’s something we should know in order to help him? He really seemed so eager to learn when I first met him.”Sayers shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him but I’ll get at the bottom of it tonight when he comes home.”“That’s not what I’m suggesting, Mrs. Sayers. I know you love him very much”—she glanced at the woman, who nodded quickly—“but I think it’s best if he’s not confronted about this but rather we try to clear up anything that’s been bothering him, if we can figure out what it is. Have there been any changes at home lately? Sometimes even a change in routine can be disrupting.” Lizzie smiled again, hoping to keep Mrs. Sayers comfortable with talking.“There’s nothing,” she said rather too quickly for Lizzie’s liking. She glanced at her watch. “I have to go. I’ll talk to Darren John when he gets home. You’ll see; everything will be just fine.” She stood quickly, grabbed her handbag and left the office, closing the door behind her.“Well, I sure blew that,” Lizzie said aloud, shaking her head. She hated to think that Darren John might be in for a verbal tirade tonight. She would make sure to talk to Sharlene at lunch and see if they could come up with something.Lizzie was actually pleased to have some extra time that morning and she searched the school files on Lafferty’s computer, making some notes, before moving to her cubbyhole in the library. She spent the rest of the morning finishing a term-end report to be handed in at the school board office before the end of the week.At noon she headed for the staff room and found Sharlene already eating at one of the long tables. She sat down beside her and recounted the early-morning meeting. “I sure hope I didn’t make things difficult for Darren John,” Lizzie ended.“My impression of Flower Sayers is that she’s fairly wishy-washy. I seriously doubt she’ll say anything to her son. I’ll keep a keen eye on him tomorrow, though. What do you think our next step should be? I hate to mention it to Benton.”Lizzie shuddered. “Me, too. I wonder if I could find a book at his level that might deal with talking about problems. I don’t know, something that he can relate to and maybe will take to heart.”Sharlene’s face lit up. “That sounds like a good solution, Lizzie. Do you have the time to look for it?”“Sure,” Lizzie said, wondering how she’d find the time. “I’ll get right on it and check with you tomorrow.” She grabbed her uneaten sandwich and headed back to the library. She’d check the school board database first of all and see if anything sounded like it fit the bill. Her next step would be to consult with the children’s librarian at the public library. But that would have to wait until after school.By the time the final bell rang, Lizzie had almost forgotten the trip to the library. She was anxious to get over to Molly’s and see how day one with a houseguest had gone. However, as she parked in front of the library, she made a quick call to Teensy to see if she had heard from Molly.“Why, sugar, I was just thinking about you,” Teensy said once Lizzie had identified herself. “We just have to get together to talk about this Darla business. You know, I’m still upset about it. That little waif just wove both Molly and Bob around her little finger. But of course, it really wasn’t any of my business so I couldn’t say anything. But I had the distinct feeling you had the same thoughts.”“I’m uncomfortable with it all,” Lizzie admitted, “but I don’t have any real reason. Just a feeling, as you say. Have you heard from Molly today?”“No, I haven’t and I did call earlier but there was no answer. I left her a message but she hasn’t returned my call. Do you think we should be worried?”Lizzie tried to make light of it. “Probably not. You know that Molly has a lot going on. She’s probably running around doing errands. Or she might even be at the bookstore.” I wonder what Darla’s doing?“Tosh. I bet you’re right and I’m just making a mountain out of a molehill again. But I’ll be keeping tabs on that girl just in case she’s planning to make off with the silver or something.”Lizzie grinned. She could just picture Teensy to the rescue. “Good idea. I’m planning on stopping by Molly’s after I take care of some business at the library.”“I feel better knowing that. Thank you, Lizzie. Bye, bye.”Hearing someone else worry about the situation helped to put it into perspective for Lizzie, she thought during the short drive to the library. She admitted she probably was overreacting and she’d just leave the worrying to Teensy. She locked the car and walked up the stairs to the front door. The afternoon sun reflected in the glass of the door, making Lizzie wish she hadn’t left her sunglasses in the car. She glanced back at the car and noticed two people moving quickly across the town square and walking at an angle toward the stores along Main Street, to Lizzie’s left. They didn’t give her a glance and she hadn’t gotten a very good look but she thought it was Darla, and it looked like she wasn’t happy about being shoved ahead by the man at her side. Lizzie lost sight of them as they slipped around the corner into the first alley, next to the florist shop.

Editorial Reviews

Praise for the Aston Corners Book Club Mysteries:"Southern charm, excellent reading suggestions, and an engaging amateur sleuth."--Miranda James, New York Times bestselling author of the Cat in the Stacks Mysteries"Books, cats, and a tenderhearted sleuth, a perfect combination!"--Krista Davis, New York Times bestselling author of the Domestic Diva Mysteries"A terrific debut!"--Mary Jane Maffini"Readers should have high hopes for this series."--Avery Aames