Welcome to Crowne Hill, where we find Maddie and Maggie working hard to maintain their church. But when tail-wagging Wally Wonka discovers a body on church grounds, the "church ladies" find themselves in the middle of a murder mystery!
The Church Lady Mysteries shares the adventures of BFFs Maddie and Maggie, two "silver foxes" who have very different ways of trying to solve a murder they suddenly find themselves involved in.
For a sample of my writing, please enjoy the 1st chapter of my new book, Haughty Eyes & Alibis, then answer the question below for a chance to win a paperback copy of the book when it's released!
Join best friends Maddie and Maggie, along with Golden Retriever Wally Wonka, as they suddenly find themselves in the middle of a murder mystery. Who knew just going to church could be so dangerous?
"IF THERE IS one thing that butters my biscuits, it’s men who can’t hit the blooming toilet.” That was met with silence because, frankly, I was alone.
Well, not exactly. There was my trusty old boy, Wally, lying just outside the door, his long snout on his paws, watching me. He always watches me. Sometimes I think that dog questioned my sanity. But at least I could always depend on him to be by my side. The ever-present faithful companion.
“Honestly, I think mamas should teach their boys to just go outside to pee,” I grumbled as I scrubbed the second toilet in the men’s room at my church. There were times when I regretted volunteering for Saturday cleaning duty. But someone had to do it, and when the pastor asked for volunteers, I wasn’t too surprised when my hand shot up.
Darned thing did that a lot.
“They could hike their legs and water the trees and bushes like you do, Wally,” I continued as I glanced at him. The overweight Golden Retriever wagged his tail, the only outward acknowledgment that I said his name.
“Sure would make a janitor’s life easier.” I switched rags, pulling out my yellow—and appropriately colored, I thought—microfiber cloth as I spritzed bleach cleaner on the floor and wiped at the stains on the gray vinyl flooring. The whole floor would be mopped when I was done, but the urine had a tendency to get into the cracks where the toilet met the floor, so it required more scrubbing than the mop gave it.
My knees creaked when I pushed myself to a stand a few moments later. “I’m getting too old for this,” I muttered as I headed over to the vanity to disinfect the twin sinks and clean the mirror. At least the mirror in the mens’ room didn’t get as dirty as the one in the ladies’. I swore, some days I thought the women in our church used the sink to take a bath.
When I was done, Wally padded down the hall ahead of me. We’d been cleaning the church on Saturdays for so long my old guy knew what to expect next. I might gripe—to myself, never to anyone else except Wally; after all, I was doing the Lord’s work—that I hated cleaning the restrooms, but honestly, the very worst job of all is the one I saved for last.
I truly hated cleaning the space. Not because it was particularly dirty, but because it had to be completely spotless when I was finished. Pastor Winchester was a nice man and he was a very generous, caring person, but he turned into a raving lunatic whenever there was a mote of dust on a pew, or a tiny speck of paper lying about on the plush royal blue carpeting.
“This job isn’t worth the pay,” I told Wally as he lowered himself to the floor just outside the sanctuary. The dog knew not to enter the area; I couldn’t begin to imagine what the pastor would do if he saw—Heaven forbid—dog hair, on the carpet.
I had never invited the man or Mrs. Winchester to my home. He would have had an apoplectic fit if he saw the dust and dog hair. But I had better things to do with my time than to constantly vacuum and wax furniture.
Like all the jobs I did for the church.
“As if we get paid.” I turned to see my best friend, Maggie, walk into the sanctuary. I swore the woman had some sort of sense for when I was about to start cleaning it. She knew how much I hated doing so, and she invariably came to help.
I gave her a grateful smile when she stepped up and grabbed a dust rag and can of cleaner from my cleaning tote. “Done with the children’s building already?” I asked.
That was another area that made me shudder, if only because the kids were messy creatures, despite the fact that the teachers always tried to clean up after them. That was the main reason I was thankful Maggie agreed to join the cleaning crew that consisted of her and me.
She didn’t mind cleaning the children’s messes.
“It wasn’t too bad this week,” Maggie said as she started wiping the shiny oak back of the last pew. I moved to the next pew and started working on it as well. Thankfully, our church was small and there were only twelve rows of long pews.
“We might actually get out of here by lunchtime,” I said. “How about we head over to Kirby’s and get a crab cake sandwich?”
My best friend for the past ten years paused to think about that. I could practically see the drool starting to pool in her mouth and I waited to see if it was going to drip down onto the pew seat. I wondered how the pastor would feel about mouth slime on the crushed velvet.
The thought made me snicker.
“I suppose,” Maggie finally answered with a shrug, like I didn’t just suggest her favorite food. Heck, those crab cake sandwiches at Kirby’s were everyone’s favorite food around here. In fact, I was pretty sure it was one of the biggest draws for getting all those tourists to our town every spring and summer.
“Or we could go to Earl’s,” she said as she ran her cloth down the arm of a pew. “I do love their shrimp scampi.” She shrugged again. “It’s six or one and a half dozen of the other.”
I pursed my lips to keep from correcting her. Maggie was forever getting her metaphors and euphemisms mixed up or just plain wrong. I called them “Maggie-isms,” and most of the time they were downright funny.
We worked in silence for the rest of the time. When Maggie dragged out the vacuum cleaner, I headed over to the fellowship hall to grab the trash bags. As always, I was really grateful that Terry cleaned the place himself after we had potluck meals, or, as was the case the past week, an ice cream social. Come summer, we’d have those at least twice a month, since it was one of the favorite events for our church.
I realized Terry had already taken out the kitchen trash when I looked into the big can. I smiled to myself; he was such a nice man. It really was a shame he was single. He would make a very nice husband…
I shook away those thoughts. I didn’t like to go down that road, because it led to too much pain. Too much bitterness.
Grabbing the bags of trash I pulled out of the restrooms, along with the bag Maggie collected from the children’s building, Wally and I headed out the back door and across the little parking lot. It wasn’t really a parking lot, I supposed, since it wasn’t paved. On the northeast coast, we got so much snow in the winter and rain the rest of the year that even with people driving all over the little lot during the week, the grass filled right back in just in time for Sunday morning service. I called it miracle grass.
Setting the bags down as Wally trotted off on some doggy adventure, I entered the combination on the lock on the trash bin’s lid. Raccoons were the bane of our town and we had to keep the bin locked tight to keep those trash pandas out. The lock was always a bit of a pain and I sighed when it finally popped open.
I smiled when I heard Wally woof, probably at a squirrel. The church sat on a hill pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and though there were woods nearby, I never had to worry about him running off. He might get it in his head to chase a rabbit now and again, but he never went far. He’d been that way every since I bought him from the breeder. A very good dog, that one was.
But I knew he wasn’t going to live much longer if I didn’t get the extra weight off him. That dog most certainly had too many biscuits in his life. I laughed to myself as I glanced down at my belly. Truth be told, neither one of us could run very far. I figured it was a very good thing our little town was safe, with not much by way of crime. No running from bad guys in my future, thankfully.
An “oof” escaped my lips when I pushed the bin lid up. It was on a hinge and once opened was too tall for me to reach, which was why I kept an old broom handle propped next to it. Those of us who were vertically challenged had to be very resourceful.
Wally barked again and I glanced toward the area where he’d run off to, but I couldn’t see him. He wasn’t far, though, and again, I didn’t worry about him wandering off. Honestly, even if he weren’t so overweight, I doubted that dog would get too far from me. He was pretty faithful like that.
Not much of a guard dog, though, I laughed to myself. Wally loved everybody, and would probably be more likely to knock a robber down in his exuberance for meeting someone new than anything else.
Once I got the bags into the bin, I reached for my stick, but it wasn’t where I left it. I groaned in frustration. One of the kids probably ran off with it when they were out playing after the ice cream social the other night.
“Don’t go far,” I called out in the direction the dog ran off. “I have to go inside. I’ll be right back.”
I lugged the stepstool out of the janitor’s closet, which required moving boxes, shoving five-gallon buckets of cleaners aside, and fighting back an attack of a mop when it decided to fling itself off the hook it was hanging on, landing on my head. Of course, it had to be the wet mop I’d just used to clean the bathroom floors.
“Great,” I muttered as I angrily shoved the thing back on the hook. “Now I’m going to have to wash and curl my hair before church tomorrow.” I worried for a moment over the fact that the mop water had bleach in it, but then shrugged that off.
“Not like my hair can get any whiter than it already is,” I snickered to myself.
“Everything okay?” Maggie called out. I had heard the vacuum shut off a few moments before and knew she would be coming any moment to put the thing away in the closet.
“Yeah, just peachy,” I called back. Even though my reply was dripping with sarcasm, I just knew Maggie wouldn’t catch it. She never did. The woman, God love her, was just a few shrimp short of a full cocktail.
“Okay, good,” she chimed as I shook my head.
After dragging the stepstool out to the bin—and ignoring the long tracks I made in the grass that I was pretty sure wouldn’t recover by tomorrow—I set it up, climbed on top, then onto my toes, before finally reaching the lid. It was with no small amount of anger that I slammed the darned thing down.
And that was when I saw Wally at the edge of the woods, wagging his tail at something. I moaned; it was probably some injured animal. That dog would never hurt anything himself, and would, in fact, stand guard over anything needing help. But the thought of having to deal with a sick or hurt creature right now… a heavy sigh escaped me as I climbed off the stepstool and headed over to the woods.
I was huffing by the time I got there. That was far more exercise than I’d planned on getting today, even though it was a relatively short distance. “Relatively” is a relative term when you’re old and fat, I thought to myself, while mentally patting myself on the back at my cleverness.
Too bad Maggie wasn’t savvy enough to get my humor. It would be nice to have an audience who would laugh at my jokes, even if it were just one person.
“What do you have, Wally?” I asked as I approached, my steps hesitant. I really hated to see animals in pain and I hoped that wasn’t the case now. Maybe it was just a baby bird that fell out of its nest or something. Of course, I had no idea how in the world I’d get it back into the nest. My stepstool certainly wasn’t that tall.
The dog’s tail continued its rapid wagging, and he didn’t even look up as I approached. My heart pounded slightly—most likely from the walk—and a worry started niggling in the back of my head that if there was something seriously injured tucked back under the bush that Wally was staring at, I might just have a heart attack. Hopefully, Maggie would come looking for me.
“Of course she will,” I murmured to myself. “I’m her ride.”
I stepped closer and peered into the darkness. There was something under the bush, but I couldn’t tell what it was.
“What is it?” I asked the dog, like he was going to answer me. While he was a very clever canine, unless the Lord Almighty Himself taught that dog English, I wasn’t going to get an answer. It was up to me to get down and crawl through the damp, moldy-smelling peat to see what had gotten my boy’s attention.
“Now I’m going to need a full-blown bath,” I grumbled to myself as I lowered to the ground and started crawling. “It better not be a skunk in there,” I warned as I glanced back over my shoulder at the panting dog. “Because if it is and I get sprayed, this is the last time you’re coming to church with me on Saturday.”
It was an empty threat; Wally knew that if I could take him somewhere, I did. His tongue lolled out of his mouth as he grinned back at me. I was pretty sure that was the dog version of laughing.
The ground was even wetter in the thick of the trees, and most especially under the bush. I winced at the feel of the mud squishing between my fingers. If there was one thing I couldn’t stand, it was to have my hands dirty.
And mens’ bathrooms, I thought. Can't stand those, either.
I gingerly parted the short limbs of the bush after first making sure it wasn’t poison ivy or oak. The last thing I needed was to show up to church with Calamine all over my face and arms. Why, I’d be the laughingstock of the whole congregation.
“It’s okay, baby,” I said soothingly, cooing to whatever it was that I was going to find. I was still praying it wasn’t a skunk. Or a badger. I also would have hated to show up to church with half my face missing.
“Are you hurt?” I baby-talked, feeling a bit foolish for doing so. Wally moved closer and I could feel his hot breath on my arm.
I parted the bushes a little more, wincing as the twigs dug into my palms. It was just too dark to see and I thought about going back for a flashlight, or even my cellphone which was in my car, but that would mean double the trips and I was already tired enough.
As I continued cooing nonsensical things to the unknown creature, I pushed back more of the bush, until a branch snapped off and I saw what had garnered Wally’s attention. I gasped.
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What is the name of the man who has kitchen duty at Maddie and Maggie's church? Put your answer in the comments section below (winner of the *giveaway will be chosen among the answers). I'll announce the winner here in the blog comments section by 1 p.m. EST tomorrow. Be sure to check back and see if you won!
*Haughty Eyes & Alibis is scheduled for an April 2022 release. The book will be sent to the winner as soon as possible.