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Get Unbaked! The Prequel.

How in the name of the goddess’s favorite sports bra am I going to do this Magical Librarian job? I have no idea what I’m doing. And the woman who’s supposed to be training me is…well, let’s just say she’s distracted and leave it at that. I guess I’ll bumble through. It’s become something of a trademark move for me.

My name is Naida Griffith and I’m a sorceress. I actually found that out not too long ago. I’ve lived with an undefined something burning in my belly for a while, feeling as if something wasn’t quite right under my skin. Then, on my eighteenth birthday I started getting headaches. Bad ones. And random stuff started following me around.

Recently I was approached by a group called the Société of Dire Magic to become Keeper of the Artifacts. A magical librarian. Given that magical artifacts have taken to following me around, I decided I might have an aptitude for the job. So I said yes.

But in the first few days, I’ve been flogged by flip flops, bludgeoned by gnomes, and discovered a corpse in a suitcase. Then there’s the woman who’s supposed to be training me. She’s…interesting. 

Will I survive the training long enough to get the job as artifact librarian? You might as well ask me if a caterpillar gets manis or pedis. Who knows? But I know one thing for sure. This gig is hard. I’m going to do my best to succeed. Or die trying.

4

Halloween Poetry by Sam – Bleurgh!

Wherein Sam Emotes…

Leaves the color of flame overhead, an unhealthy focus on the dead,

Pumpkins carved with expressive face, and pumpkin spice stuff every place,

Cool temps wrapped around us all, making the fire of summer the frost of fall,
 
Witches, ghosties, skeletal beasts, hold sway on lawns and frolic at feasts,

One night, one colorful history held dear, I can't wait to experience the magic this year.

xx

Happy Halloween! 

Sam

Magical chaos, old enemies, new adversaries, and danger around every corner…I HATE this time of year!

‘Tis the Season…

I LOVE this time of year! Even if you don't believe in magic, it's hard to deny that the next three months of the year are filled to the brim with the magic of expectation, anticipation and cherished memory. 

In my family, we've already kicked off this magical time of year with a visit to Boo Zoo at the Indianapolis zoo, wherein my 2 tiny grandsons were fine examples of a Star Wars pilot and Blippi. Those of you who know who Blippi is probably have toddlers in your lives. And let me tell you, he was the cutest Blippi EVER! #:0) 

Yesterday, the kids went on the Pumpkin Express train out of Noblesville, Indiana. It was their first time on a real train and I've never seen such smiles. 

That's real, honest to goodness magic right there. 

So, as we move into this busiest time of year together, here's my advice to you. Embrace the magic around you. Yes, it does exist. It takes a different form for everyone. But wherever you find your magic, hold it close. Become the child with hope and expectation sparkling in your eyes. Make it your own and reap the endless benefits that result. 

xx

Happy Sleuthing! 


Sam

Fortune Croakies – I give you Frog and Cat!

Apple Trees and Frog Pee

It isn’t every day that you find yourself staring at a frog’s squishy butt bulging from the underside of a sink drain. I would have felt better if I’d believed it would never happen again. However, because I appeared to be frog-cursed, there was a strong possibility I’d eventually end up lying on my back under the sink, eyeing the posterior region of Mr. Slimy again.

Sighing, I gave the squishy bulk a tentative poke with my finger, earning a forlorn, “Ribbit!” for my efforts. Something trickled downward, hitting my cheek and dripping down to the paper towel I had draped under my head to keep “under the sink” cooties off my hair.

I realized, too late, what had just dripped on me.

“Argh!” I shoved out from under the sink and bent over while grabbing frantically for more paper towel to wipe frog pee off my cheek. “I can’t believe it!”

The figure lounging against my refrigerator grinned. “You shouldn’t poke a stressed frog, Naida.”

I glared at the source of almost all my problems.

Okay, I know I previously said that about Mr. Wicked, my adorable kitten who was probably better at being an artifact keeper than I was. But I’d reassessed the players and decided Rustin Quilleran, former witch and current frog squatter, was definitely more trouble than my sweet little kitten.

I mean, Wicked was curled up on his pillow, purring happily.

Rustin was driving a fat frog bus that got itself jammed in my drain and peed on my face.

I’ll let you do the math.

“Not funny. You need to keep a better lock on the contents of your bladder.”

His grin widened. “I think you have a mistaken view of my ability to control your wedged friend,” he told me. “I’m just a passenger on that particular bus.”

Which, normally I’d be happy about. I mean, when Rustin had gotten stuck in the frog because of a spell his horrible family had performed, I’d felt terrible. We’d tried everything to get him out of there. But, in the end, the evil Jacob Quilleran had interfered, making certain poor Rustin didn’t escape the fate Jacob had locked him into.

I still hadn’t found out why Rustin’s Uncle Jacob had felt the need to lock him in a frog.

Rustin wasn’t being very forthcoming with the information.

I hurried past him, into my bathroom, where I put soap onto the wet paper towel and scrubbed my cheek until I was in danger of removing a layer of skin cells along with the frog pee.

“What are you doing here, then? Standing there laughing isn’t helping at all.”

Rustin shrugged. “I was bored. Your life is generally good for a few laughs. I’m happy to report that this morning has been no exception.”

I barely resisted zapping him with my almost worthless keeper magics. I pretty much had only enough oomph in my zapper to curl someone’s hair or make them pee themselves.

Trust me when I tell you I’d had enough of making stuff pee for the day.

Flinging the soiled paper towel into the trash, I glared at him. “I’m so glad I could entertain.”

“Me too.” His grin never wavered.

A part of me was happy to see it. I’d been so worried that Rustin would lose his humanity because of his enforced incarceration in the frog. But his cousin Maude and his very powerful Aunt Madeline had been working on reversing the spell. They hadn’t managed yet to free him. But they’d created a metaphysical barrier between Mr. Slimy’s ─ a.k.a. the frog’s ─ consciousness and Rustin’s so he could maintain his power, brain capacity, and humanity…basically his soul.

That was as good a result as we could have hoped for under the circumstances.

Even though that meant, as Mr. Slimy’s current foster parent, I was also the unlucky owner of the ethereally handsome and eternally snarky witch who was stuck inside the frog.

You thought I was kidding about the challenges of my life, didn’t you?

The bell jangled downstairs in my bookstore, and I glanced at my stuck amphibian.

“Ribbit.” Slimy’s sticky tongue snapped out and snagged a massive fly that had tried to make a break for the window above the sink.

Sucker.

I looked at Rustin. “Keep an eye on the squishy, green bus. I have to go see who’s downstairs.”

He nodded, casting what appeared to be an affectionate glance toward Mr. Slimy.

I shook my head. How anybody could be fond of a frog was beyond me.

Although, I realized as I bounced down the steps to the first floor, that I’d begun to form an attachment which transcended disgust. In fact, I almost dreaded the day Madeline managed to find a way to extract her nephew. I was going to miss him.

Unlocking the door that separated the bookstore from the artifact library behind me, I blinked in surprise.

Had I just had a Freudian moment? Was I going to miss the witch? Or the frog?

I shrugged, shoving the question aside for another time. It would probably be an easy choice.

I mean, one of them just peed on me.

Becoming Friends With Your Favorite Characters

Sometimes it's the unlikeliest pair who form a bond, as in my new paranormal cozy series, Enchanted Inquiries. In Book 1: Tea & Croakies, we're introduced to a magically gifted cat and a frog that's possessed by the spirit of a wronged witch.

Unlikely friends? Yes. But friends none-the-less. Circumstances, mutual relationships, and natural affinities all work together to create a bond that withstands treachery, mishap, and deadly challenge to strengthen a natural connection into something inexplicable but good.

Other relationships are less inexplicable…erm…more explicable? LOL I'm talking about the relationship between you and the book characters you learn to love. That's part of the magic in a well-written book. You can find new friends, immerse yourself into their lives and root for them, cry for them, laugh with them until you form such a bond you can't wait to see them again.

That's what it means when you hear readers lament, “I didn't want it to end!” Writers sometimes overlook the importance of that sentiment. We have limited time, limited resources, and stories banging together in our heads trying to escape. We can't write everything for everybody. It's just not possible. Sometimes we have to make an emotional decision to end a series. Sometimes it's a purely business one. But whatever the reason, we do ourselves a disservice not to heed the cries of people who've bonded with our characters. We need to cherish that bond. Rejoice in it. Because it means we've truly touched the hearts of our readers.

An awesome thing.

There's one relationship element you might not consider as a reader. The writer's bond with the characters. You see it in the progression of a series. The way the characters grow, become three- and four-dimensional, and the way the author treats them as they move through their days, their lives, the phases of their stories.

We bond with our characters too.

This is why first books in series don't usually rate as well as subsequent books. In the beginning, we're just getting to know our characters like you are. No matter how much thought we put into them before we write them, they don't stick to the dossier we have of them in our heads. They evolve and morph as we put them through their paces. They grow into their own people. The story changes them into what they were always meant to be.

Miraculous!

So embrace those book friendships. They're fun and healthy and ultimately oh so satisfying. But understand that authors deal with much the same thing when we create our characters. In many ways, they're our friends, our confidants, our not-so-cheap therapy! LOL And when we share them with you, we're entrusting you with a little piece of our hearts. I mean, isn't that what friends do?

Happy sleuthing, everybody! xx

Sam

Begin the Journey – Grab a Copy of Tea & Croakies

I knew when I woke up with a migraine that things were going to get interesting. As a magical artifact wrangler, it’s not an unusual way to start my day. But I had no idea how bad it was going to get.

Until I found a frog sitting in my teacup.

Even that, I could explain to myself if I had to. After all, I have a creative mind. But when the frog started talking to me, yeah, I was pretty sure I’d taken the wrong kind of pill that morning for my headache. If only I’d realized then what I know now. The talking frog was just the beginning of my problems. And quite a beginning it was!

The Frog! A short excerpt from Tea & Croakies!

Something emerged from the shadows. The shape didn’t move like a cat. It wasn’t graceful. In fact, it sort of shuffled rather than walked. I suddenly feared that my sweet kitten had hurt himself. “Are you okay, buddy?”

The shape reached the light and I found myself staring into a pair of bulging black eyes, surrounded by a scaly green head and a fat, squishy body.

I yelped, jumping back in surprise as the frog leaped into the air and thumped against the underside of the shelf.

“A frog!” I squealed, backpedaling as fast as I could on my knees until I bumped up against the base of the counter.

More thumping ensued. Then Wicked’s head emerged and he glowered at me. “Meow!”

I felt strangely compelled to defend myself. “What do you want me to do?”

The cat yowled unhappily, disappearing back underneath the shelf with a final snap of his tail.

Thump. Thump. Thump.

I sighed. The frog was clearly stuck under the shelving. Every time he tried to hop out from under there, he bashed against the underside of the shelf. “I just…” I scrubbed a hand over my face, wondering who I could call to extricate him.

“Yowwww!”

“Sprite’s trousers, Wicked!” I exclaimed in frustration. “I don’t touch frogs. You know this. We’ve discussed it at length.” Not that he’d understood any of it. But he seemed determined to force me into touching this one so I felt the need to remind him. “They’re slimy and give me hives.”

I wasn’t sure that latter was strictly true. But panic was making my pulse race and I had to tell myself something.

Thump. Thump.

The poor thing was going to give itself brain damage. Wait. What was I saying? Frogs don’t have brains. Do they?

Thumpthumpthumpthumpthump.

“Ugh!” I exclaimed, “I’m coming!”

I repositioned myself on the floor, glancing along the line of shelves. Maybe I could just cut the shelf down the middle so he could hop out.

“Meow!!!”

Growling unhappily. I pressed my cheek against the carpet and looked underneath again. The bulging black eyes seemed to be closer to the edge. Maybe he’d managed to move himself, I thought excitedly. Maybe he didn’t need me after all.

The black eyes slowly blinked and the frog’s body quivered. He looked so sad. I stared into those protruding eyes and something inside me shifted. I felt…pity.

“Trolls boogers,” I murmured unhappily, knowing what I had to do.

I pulled air into my lungs and tugged a wisp of calming magic forward, unsure I’d be able to do it. My hand inched closer and stopped as the black, unfathomable gaze pinned me in place. The frog’s body swelled and shrank as it breathed, and its tiny feet shifted uncertainly as my hand came close.  

My fingers twitched. My hand stilled in midair. All I could think about was the last and only time I’d touched a frog. It had been cool and slimy to the touch, and its slime had painted my hand, giving me an unsightly rash that had lasted for weeks.

Nothing I’d done had helped the rash. Until I’d accidentally gotten blasted by a ray of healing magic.

I couldn’t count on a random witch shooting healing magics at me a second time. Or, considering my unhealthy relationship with the Quillerans, a non-random one either.

Thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthump…Meow!

I sighed, dropping my head to the floor in defeat. “Okay, chillax you two. I’m doing this.”

Before I could change my mind, I quickly extended my hand and wrapped my fingers around the thick, squishy body, jerking it toward me and then releasing it with a squeal and another awkward crawling retreat.

The frog hunched on the carpet, staring at me with its throat working, its puffy body looking iridescent under the overhead lights. I rubbed my hand against my jeans, grimacing, before realizing my hand wasn’t slimy. Not at all. And the touch memory of the frog’s soft, warmish skin still clung to it.

“Ribbit,” the frog said. It gave an experimental hop in my direction and stopped as I twitched with disgust. “Ribbit.”

Mr. Wicked suddenly appeared at my elbow. He gave me soft eyes and rubbed against my knee as I stared in horror at the frog. It had just occurred to me that my trauma wasn’t over. I still had a frog in my bookstore.

“Now what am I going to do with you?” I murmured. I had no idea what frogs needed to live. I wasn’t equipped to deal with amphibians. I was totally a dry land kind of girl. What did they eat? Did they need water to survive?

A spec of black buzzed past me and Wicked’s paw shot up, swiping at the fly. The unfortunate insect dodged sideways to avoid the threatening paw, and flew directly into deadly frog territory.

Quick as a wink, the frog’s tongue snapped out and snatched the fly right out of the air. He seemed to shudder as if even he was disgusted by the action.

“Well,” I said, grimacing. “I guess the food thing’s taken care of for the moment.”

I shoved to my feet. “Tomorrow, I’ll ask Sebille to take you to her family in the woods. You can live on their pond,” I inexplicably explained to the frog and the cat.

With that decision made, I felt better. But just in case, I went into the bathroom and grabbed Wicked’s water dish, filling it up and carrying it out to place in front of the frog. “If you need a drink or…you know…a bath or something.”

“Ribbit.”

“Yowl!” Wicked gave me stink eye.

I shrugged. “Hey, it was your bright idea to save him. I guess you’re going to have to take this one for the team.”

Risky Venue Chapter One

She’s got a lot more to lose now…and somebody’s determined to make sure she loses it all.

Blaise is at it again. She's still searching for that perfect job. But even when she thinks she might have found a job that could be more of a career than just a 9 to 5 gig, something always happens to get in her way. 

Usually, that something involves a corpse…

But this time, Blaise's past comes back to haunt her in a big way. She’d thought she put that whole, seeing a murder on the beach thing behind her. But it seems somebody doesn't want to leave the past where it belongs. 

And her past problems are about to become her current nightmare.

She's just trying to live her life. But someone doesn't want to let go of the past. And that means not letting go of her!

“Just think of it as a giant party,” Blaise’s friend, Suz Whatsnoggin told her, grinning.

“It will be just like working at the bar,” Dolfe offered, taking a long swig of his icy cold beer.

Tyrese shook his head. “Not really. There are no Bridezillas at the bar.”

Dolfe’s handsome face filled with worry. “Bridezilla? I don’t know what that is but I’m pretty sure I don’t like the sound of it.”

Blaise winced, imploring her friends with her eyes not to inform her sexy fiancé about the horrors of dealing with a nervous bride. It was the last thing Blaise wanted him to think about on the virtual eve of their own wedding.

Well…if you consider “within the next year” the eve.

Fortunately, Suz caught what her friend was throwing. “It’s nothing you need to ever worry about, Honeybun.” She winked at Blaise.

But Dolfe was not a stupid man. In fact, he was probably even smarter than he was good-looking, Blaise thought. And that was a lot of smart. “It’s just a mean term used for brides who get the jitters,” she told him in as offhand a way as she could muster. “Suz is right. You’ll never experience that with me. I’m a rock.”

He grinned. “A rock, huh?” Being the aforementioned smart hottie, Dolfe was wise enough not to venture any further into those tempestuous seas. He simply smiled, shaking his head, and took another sip of his beer.

Tyrese apparently wasn’t smart enough to stay out of the storm. He dove right in, daring the waves to swamp him. “I have no delusions. If Suz and I choose to get married someday, she’ll be the queen of bridezillas. My Suz will own the term.” He shook his head as Suz gave him a quelling look. “I love me some strong woman. I have my own special way of easing her nerves.”

When he waggled his brows, Suz rolled her eyes. “Stupidity, thy name is Tyrese.”

Ty’s leer slid away. “Babe!” He leaned across the table, one long, brown finger tucking up beneath her delicate chin and lifting. “You know you’re cray-cray about me.”

She leaned in too, her lips a mere breath from his as she released the Kraken. “Dude,” Suz said in her sexiest voice. “You know, if we ever did decide to tie the knot, I’d just be marrying you for your last name, right?”

Ty laughed. “What? You don’t want to lumber through life with the name Whatsnoggin anymore?”

Suz smacked him on the arm.

Blaise shook her head. “Please tell me you didn’t just go there,” she said.

Dolfe winced.  “We don’t make fun of a person’s name around here, man. It’s not in good taste,” said the guy named Honeybun.

Ty’s smile withered. “She started it.”

Suz snorted. “Really? That’s what you’re going with? A playground excuse?”

Ty shrugged. “Look, I love your weird name, babe. It’s just one of the many funny little oddities that make you special.”

Dolfe groaned and Blaise sucked in a gasp. “Ty!”

Suz stared at him for a long moment, her pretty face so lacking in expression it was an expression all on its own. It was a face that said, you are so dead, while simultaneously declaring a total lack of concern.

Tyrese slowly lost his swagger and began to wilt, until he became little more than a handsome puddle in the delicate chair. When he was so puddly he looked ready to slither bonelessly off the chair onto the newly carpeted floor, Suz finally gave him a tight smile. “Just for that, if we ever decide to get married, Tyrese Miller, you’re going to take my name.”

Everybody gasped at that, followed by Dolfe’s low chuckle.

“Snap!” Blaise told her friends, knocking dainty knuckles with Suz.

“Come on, girlfriend,” Suz told Blaise. “Help me count the new shipment of linen napkins that just came in?”

Blaise stood, winking at Tyrese. “You’d better pull together your best defrazzling game, son. That’s one ticked off ‘special’ girl right there.” Blaise grinned as she followed Suz’s angrily swaying behind toward the door at the back of the enormous room. Behind her, she heard Dolfe’s deep chuckle as Ty whined at him in a voice that sounded like seagulls on a stormy beach.

Suz stopped at the open storage room door and grinned. “That should keep him on his toes for a while.”

Blaise laughed softly. “Oh yeah.”

Before going inside, the two of them stood in the doorway and looked around at the massive main space. It was a gorgeous room, elegant and clean, with lots of light and clean, simple lines. Blaise was impressed by her friend’s vision and decorating skills.

“It’s really beautiful, Suz.”

Her friend sighed, leaning companionably against Blaise’s shoulder. “It is, isn’t it?”

Blaise nodded. When Suz had first come to her with the idea of a wedding reception barn venue, Blaise had thought Suz had lost her mind. But her friend had quickly sold the plan, backing up her excitement with lots of rock-solid information that supported both the need and profitability of the venture.

With Blaise’s help and Dolfe’s investment in time and effort, Ty and Suz had turned the dream into reality in only a few short months.

They’d found a big, dusty barn out in the country on twenty acres of farmland and woods. The property featured a picturesque creek running along behind the main building, a wide lawn with old growth evergreens, and a lovely bridge over the creek that would make a perfect spot for pictures.

Ty and Suz had turned the interior of the metal-sided barn into a beautiful space, with rustic looking cedar walls, a tall ceiling with the original beams, and cream-colored carpet that Blaise couldn’t help thinking was going to be Hell on Earth to keep clean.

The public portion of the venue mostly consisted of one, giant room, with an alcove for coats and gifts, two bathrooms, and an open-air patio out back that served both as an outdoor kitchen and smoking lounge. The roof of the lounge was outfitted with industrial-sized heaters for cooler nights, and giant ceiling fans for sultry summer nights. The structure was mostly enclosed, with one wall entirely open so that smoke from cigars or the grill could escape harmlessly out into the night.  The view through the open wall included the pretty little creek and bridge, as well as a few acres of grass, flower beds, and evergreen trees.

It was actually a really nice space that Blaise hoped they’d be able to use for future Honeybun parties. It was large enough to accommodate a family as big as the Honeybuns, even as they continued to grow.

The non-public part of the venue consisted of a storage room with a small office at the back, and a caterer’s kitchen with restaurant-grade appliances.

The main room held fifty tables that were big enough to seat eight to ten people each, with chairs that Suz had covered in frilly white covers. Overhead, crystal chandeliers looked both opulent and kitschy against the age-darkened wood and were complimented by yard after yard of gossamer drapings, which hung from the rustic beams.

They’d added a small dance floor on one end, with a raised stage and glossy wood floors.

A swinging metal door in the back corner of the main space led to the caterer’s kitchen, which contained ample refrigeration, a bank of industrial microwaves for reheating food that was brought in for events, and a couple of long, wide, stainless-steel counters for food prep. They’d added the kitchen space on Dolfe’s suggestion, and it had required building a small annex of the main building. But Blaise realized it had absolutely been the right thing to do, and she was happy her friends had listened to her very smart fiancé.

Blaise had been intrigued as the couple turned the ugly building into something straight out of a fairy tale. All her doubts had slowly been swept away as she saw the enormous potential there.

And the last hurdle had been breached when they got their first clients, who were on their way to the venue at that very moment for a walk-thru.

Suz took a deep breath. “This is really going to happen, isn’t it?”

Wrapping an arm around her friend, Blaise nodded, “It really is.”

“I hope this couple isn’t difficult,” Suz said, frowning. She chewed on her bottom lip, clearly affected by the whole bridezilla conversation.

“We’ll deal with whatever happens,” Blaise said soothingly.

Suz nodded, giving Blaise a wide smile. “Have I told you that I’m so happy you’re here to help us get this off the ground?”

“Only five times today,” Blaise said, laughing. “But remember, it’s only for the first few months.” The wedding reception venue concept felt too much like working in a bar for Blaise’s taste. She was happy to help out, but it wasn’t what she wanted to do long-term for a living.

“I know,” her friend said on a sigh. “But a girl can dream, can’t she?”

“She absolutely can.” Blaise swung her arm to encompass the entire space. “Look what happens when she does.”


Grab your copy of Risky Venue at its temporary New Release price!

A Chat with Flo from Silver Hills

Hi! I'm Flo from Silver Hills. I'm so glad to meet you, hun. I don't have a lot of time because Agnes and I are about to go to yoga class and we need to make sure to get a spot at the front of the class. Why, you ask? Oh, you haven't read Dose Vidanya yet have you? LOL All jokes aside, that was a very trying time for us. Finding that dead guy so close to the Book Club cookie table just about did Agnes in. Especially when some well-meaning person told her they thought dead-guy spores might be airborne. I don't think I've ever seen Agnes regret eating cookies before. Oh, you've never met my friend Agnes? She's a great friend and very loyal. But there are challenges to being around her. For one thing, she's never met a crime scene she couldn't debauch. A fact that has tested young Detective Peters' anger management skills many times.

In Freezer Bernie, Agnes was at the top of her game. When she accidentally dumped lemon gelato into the victim's gunshot wound…well…let's just say it was a good thing Detective Peters didn't have easy access to his weapon on that one!

Being around Agnes can occasionally get a bit slap-sticky. But that's half of her appeal, hun. The fact that she's a genuinely kind person is definitely the other half. Sam injects humor in almost all her stories, but she puts an extra little punch of it in the Silver Hills books. She says the humor is as much a part of the plot as solving the mystery. I think she's right because I've made so many good friends since the series started. People feel like they know us after reading the books, and they tell me they want to move into Silver Hills!Oh, by the way, did you know there was a new Silver Hills book available? There is! Fowl Campaign hit the shelves a couple of days ago. And the best news is that right now it's only $2.99, in honor of the new release. If you enjoy a great murder with fun characters and a healthy dose of humor, you should grab a copy while it's still on sale. Thanks for visiting with me, hun. I hope to see you in the pages of a Silver Hills book soon! 

hugs,

Flo
“Once I started this newest Silver Hills adventure, I couldn't put it down! What a rollercoaster ride this book is!!!! I laughed out loud and had my blood pressure elevate at several points. Sam Cheever has done it again!!!!!”

So MUCK Fun!

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.

Mostly.

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.”

“But…”

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.

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