Mucky Bumpkin is Full Throttle Country Fun!
A dead Realtor, a cranky cat, an adorable, depressed pibl, and a boyfriend who hasn't been…shall we say…totally honest recently. Joey's got bigger problems than figuring out when she'll get her next slice of banana cream pie. Though that certainly ranks high on her list of concerns.
I’ve always been perfectly aware of my shortcomings as a person.
I consider myself generally a good person. With good instincts about people and a desire to be kind to others unless they’re unkind to me. But I do have an aversion to pushy people. Which has put me on the wrong side of salesmen of all kinds more than once.
My second least favorite of these is real estate agents. Not that being a Realtor is innately bad. It’s just that the act of buying or selling a house is way too much like dealing with used car salesmen for my taste.
Which brings me to my first least favorite type of salesmen.
Fortunately, it wasn’t a car salesman standing on my porch that sunny, cool-ish fall day in the rural area just outside of Deer Hollow, Indiana.
But it might as well have been.
The woman standing in front of Caphy and me had lipstick on her teeth and hair that looked as if squirrels might have built it on her head for nesting. Lucky for her my dog was much more tolerant than I was. Even when she was being none-too-subtly dissed by said lipstick-teethed intruder.
“Miss Fulle, you should chain that beast up.”
The hand on Caphy’s collar tightened briefly as I fought to contain my instant rage. Cacophony, Caphy for short, was about the sweetest animal that ever lived. She was more than my best friend. I credited her with saving my life when I’d gone into the deepest depression imaginable after my parents were killed in a plane crash on our property.
She was also a pit bull.
And that was all some people saw when they looked at her.
Caphy smiled at the woman, her muscular tail whipping painfully against my leg. She whined softly, quivering with friendly excitement.
I drew myself up to my full five feet four inches, tucked a strand of shoulder-length red-blonde hair behind one ear, and narrowed my blue eyes at her. “She’s fine,” I told the woman with the squirrel’s nest for hair. “She lives here. Whereas you…” I let my statement trail away, allowing my uninvited guest to gather my implication all by herself.
The woman frowned slightly, moving a purse the size of her extra-large backside in front of her like a shield. “Oh…um…okay. Well.” She extended her hand a few inches in front of her, a white rectangle stuck between two short fingers. “Here’s my card. My name is Penney Sellers. I was wondering if you’re interested in selling your house.”
I blinked several times. “Not in the least.”
As I responded, I realized it was true. After my parents’ death, when I initially learned that I’d inherited the house and the family auction business, my first thought was to sell the too-big house rather than live here. Too many painful memories existed within its familiar walls. I still thought I’d sell eventually. But I wasn’t quite ready to make that decision.
The auction business was another matter entirely. I still hadn’t accepted the responsibility they’d left in my less-than-capable hands. There was no way I could fill their shoes in the business, and being there was just too painful for me to face.
I glanced down at the card, grimacing at the obviousness of the woman’s name. “Is Penney Sellers really your name?”
In response she gave me a slightly snotty smile. “I can offer you a premium price. There aren’t many homes in this area of this quality.”
“Not interested. You do know there’s a huge subdivision going up on the south side of Deer Hollow, right?” Of course she knew that. But I was making a point.
“Those houses are fine. But they don’t have the…” She swung her arms toward the pond and the trees. “Ambiance. The setting here is truly spectacular.”
“Thank you. But I’m not interested in selling.” I backed into the house, tugging gently on Caphy’s collar. Her gaze locked onto the other woman, who’d taken a step toward the door as if she was thinking about pushing her way inside. A low growl emerged from Caphy’s throat and the hair in front of her tail spiked.
Penney Sellers stopped dead in her tracks, her gaze shooting to the endlessly sweet creature who was giving her fair warning.
But Caphy’s warning didn’t stop the realtor’s mouth from moving. “Do you own all those woods over there?” The woman asked. Her expression was perfectly innocent. But there was a gleam in her eye that I didn’t like.
“Yes. All the way to the big stone marker on Goat’s Hollow Road. 100 acres.”
The gleam flared, making her look positively demonic. “A hundred acres! My goodness. I’d love to talk to you about subdividing the property. We could build a dozen homes and still have sizeable properties.”
“Not interested. Thanks for stopping by.”
I slammed the door in her face and locked it. Pressing my ear against the warm wood, I listened for her to climb into her car and drive away before I took a full breath. A soft whine drew my gaze to Caphy. “It’s all right, girl. She’s gone.”
The pibl’s tail snapped sideways once and then she nuzzled me, snorting softly. She was sensitive to my moods, and the alarm I was feeling was no doubt putting her on edge. I couldn’t have explained the panic tightening my chest if someone offered me a thousand dollars to do it.
It was an unreasonable fear. But undeniable.
Nobody could force me to sell my house. Nobody could make me give up my private little wonderland. It was all I had left of my parents.
It was also the place where Caphy and I had grown up. Where we’d run and played, where I’d climbed trees and learned to swim. But the new subdivision was affecting my life in ways I hadn’t expected. When I’d first learned it was coming it had seemed harmless. After all, the three hundred acre plot on the south side of Deer Hollow was miles away from me. The homes were supposed to be decent ones, built on quarter acre lots and not all exactly the same. I reasoned it would be nice to have some new blood in town.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t counted on the other stuff that came with those homes. The constant traffic through town from looky-loos. The noise, mess, and invasion of people who thought the town had been conjured up for their enjoyment.
And the realtors, builders and construction people who clogged the streets and turned the few restaurants Deer Hollow boasted into hotbeds of noise and inaccessibility at meal times.
Still, I could deal with all that.
It was the other thing that had my nerves thrumming like a banjo in the mountains of Kentucky.
The sense of impending doom.
I couldn’t explain it. Hadn’t experienced it before. And I suspected it had something to do with the body we’d discovered in my woods not all that long ago. I was pretty sure I wasn’t completely over finding that mangled corpse or the terrifying events that came after.
Whatever the cause, it was all too real.
And it was making me as jumpy as a fat-legged frog in a French restaurant.
When the article declaring Deer Hollow as one of the best places to raise a family in the United States came out in the The Indianapolis Star weeks earlier, I’d never expected such a vast and immediate change in my world.
But suddenly the Hollow was on the news almost every night. Articles were being written about what a great spot it was. The local artists, authors, and businesses were being examined, highlighted, and, in some cases, given an anal probe, the likes of which the people in my little community had never experienced.
Our recent murder-driven scandal had been examined, the article’s author lamenting the fact that it had apparently been overlooked when choosing America’s favorite spots to live.
But, so far, my family’s involvement had been blissfully absent from speculation. A fact I thought had much to do with a certain uber-sexy PI and his connections with the FBI.
For that, I was both grateful and tense.
I felt as if the other shoe was going to drop at any moment.