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Today we’re heading to Riddleton, South Carolina, where local book store owner and writer Jen has to solve a crime with some good old fashioned summer charm. This one will make you smile while you unravel the mystery.
About the Book
I wrote murder mysteries. I didn’t investigate them. Until now…
Crime writer turned amateur sleuth, Jen, has taken over the running of the local bookstore in her hometown of Riddleton.
But balancing the books at Ravenous Readers is nothing compared to meeting the deadline for her new novel.
Dodging phone calls from her editor takes a back seat, however, when the local police chief is poisoned. To solve the murder, Jen must dust off her detective hat once more.
With everyone in town seemingly a suspect, and evidence planted to incriminate local police officer and close friend Eric, Jen is working against the clock. Can she find the killer and beat her own writer’s block before it’s too late?
By the last Saturday in June, outdoor activities in Riddleton, South Carolina, were like a bad marriage. You could survive more or less unscathed if you got out early enough. Wait too long, though, and it turned to hell in a hurry. With that in mind, today’s Riddleton 10k began at six in the morning. Two cups of coffee short of complete brain function, my caffeine-deprived body was camped out on the sidewalk in front of the town hall, at the finish line.
Throngs gathered along the race route to cheer on the runners, and my ears vibrated with the echoes of a hundred conversations, which played snare drum in my head. Mostly arguments about who would win the competition. Although, a young couple behind me argued over whether to spend money they didn’t have on a new fifty-inch flat-screen on clearance at Walmart. No surprise, he was the yes, she the no.
Once a stagecoach rest stop halfway between Blackburn and Sutton, Riddleton had grown when engineers built the dam to create Lake Dester. It remained a small town, though, rife with the typical small-town mentality. Everyone knew everything about everyone else, and help during troubled times was never more than an arm’s length away. It suffocated me as a kid growing up here, and I couldn’t wait to escape to college in Blackburn. When I moved back to town last year, however, I learned how reassuring having people around who cared about me could be.
However, surrounded by densely packed humanity, I shifted my feet and struggled with what to do with my hands. No room in the pockets of my getting-tighter-everyday jeans, so I lowered them to my sides. Unfortunately, my puppy Savannah’s leash occupied one of them.
“Ouch!” A tiny drop of blood welled on my index finger. I stuck the offended digit in my mouth and glanced down. My German shepherd puppy fixed her warm brown eyes on me, ears back, tail wagging. I squatted to her level. “Now see here, Savannah, just because you own a maw full of razor blades doesn’t mean you’re allowed to slice me to ribbons every time you want a little attention.”
She licked my cheek, her silver muzzle prickly against my skin. So much for scolding.
Brittany Dunlop, her flyaway blond hair taking off in the breeze, squeezed in beside us. “A kiss counts as an apology, wouldn’t you say, Jen?”
Brittany had adopted me in kindergarten, and we’d remained best friends ever since. Although she topped the tape measure at a whopping five foot two, she was a formidable presence in my life, and I don’t know how I would’ve survived my childhood without her. The voice of sanity whispering in my ear when my stepfather Gary was having one of his out-of-control days, and home became crazy town.
Savannah leaped towards her in greeting, and her tongue flared like a lizard snapping breakfast off a branch. Brittany yanked her hands out of the danger zone and clasped them behind her back, having already experienced her share of rapier-like love nips.
“Close to one as I’m going to get, I’m sure.” I told the pup to sit, then pushed gently on her hindquarters until she complied and leaned on my leg, tongue dripping saliva on my brand-new Nike cross-trainer. The exercise was a trial for us both, given the distraction of the masses around us. “She needs to potty, but escaping the crowd will be an adventure.”
“Want me to run interference for you? I’m a librarian, remember? People have to listen to me, or I’ll shush them.” Brittany knelt to scratch Savannah’s chest, an offer of some much-needed attention to the self-proclaimed neglected puppy.
“No, you hold our place. I want to see Eric win.” Eric O’Malley—the tall, lanky, red-headed leader of the Riddleton Runners, a group I’d reluctantly joined last year—also represented the police department as a patrol officer. No question about which role meant more to him today, though. He chased the finish line like it was an armed robbery suspect trying to get away.
Brittany pursed her thin lips and inched her oversized, tiger-striped glasses back up to the bridge of her nose. “You think he’s fast enough?”
“Hard to say, but a win would mean a lot to him. Besides, I’ve learned to appreciate his friendship, so I should root for him, don’t you think?”
She raised her so-pale-they-could-barely-be-seen-in-the-sunlight eyebrows. “Yeah, like that’s the only reason.”
I sent her an eye roll. “Please! I’m well aware of what you’re thinking. He’s my running buddy, and a win would make him happy, which is my only interest.”
“If you say so.” Brittany crossed her arms. “Wanna put your money where your mouth is? I say the chief’s a shoo-in again.”
My mind generated a picture of the graying fifty-something who carried his thirty-plus years on the force, the last ten spent behind a desk, like ankle weights. In comparison, Eric was a gazelle being chased by a lion through the Serengeti. A gangly, red-headed gazelle in baggy green shorts and a red tank top. “That old man? No way. I’ll risk five bucks.”
“Throw in lunch, and you’ve got a deal.”
“Done.” I allowed Savannah to maneuver us through the multitude, and smiles flashed from friends and strangers alike. Nothing like puppies and babies to grab attention. Most people were suckers for the young and the helpless. Like The Young and the Restless, only cuter.
A youthful—compared to my ancient twenty-nine, that is—woman in a Sutton High School Track T-shirt peeked around the muscular biceps of the middle-aged man who stood in front of her. She squealed at a pitch an octave above my comfort zone. “Hey, aren’t you Jennifer Dawson?”
Here we go. I resisted the urge to cover my ears as I suspected Savannah wished she could. “Yes.” She powered the rest of the way through and almost trampled the bounding puppy since Biceps Man’s leg blocked her escape route.
Muscles flexed under his tight, black Gold’s Gym T-shirt, he exposed what he clearly believed to be an irresistible smile.
Nice try, fella, but I don’t think so.
“I’m so excited to meet you,” the young woman said. “Catching that killer by yourself was amazing. You’re a real hero.”
Vacant eyes stared up at me from the first floor of the Cunningham house. When Aletha—bookstore owner, muse, and friend—was murdered last year, I became embroiled in the investigation because evidence pointing to me was found at the crime scene. I shook away the memory. At least the woman didn’t have a question about my stalled second novel. “Thank you, but I got lucky. Had lots of help, too.”
“Well, I think you’re terrific. Also, I loved your book, by the way. When’s the next one due out?”
My faux smile made its first appearance of the day. “Soon.” Otherwise known as never, at my current rate of progress.
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About the Author
Sue is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and the Crime Writer’s Association. When she isn’t writing, you can find her reading, watching old movies, or hiking the New Mexico desert with her furry best friend.
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