This is the first book in my first-ever and longest series. First, I'll give you a synopsis of what the book is about, then we'll dive right into the story!
What's a witch to do when the meanest man in the county drops dead in his coleslaw during her shift at the local barbecue joint? Noelle does what any good Southern girl would do: she flicks a wrist to clean up the mess, then thanks the stars for doing the world a favor. She should have known nothing's that easy.
The Magical Oversight Committee is on her back because she can't keep her unruly little sister in line and the hunky new city-slicker sheriff would like to take her to dinner, except he suspects her of murder. To top it off, her cursed miniature donkey is being particularly calamitous and the old hens at the local beauty parlor are laying bets on her love life.
A skydiving best friend and a bossy, living-impaired aunt become the least of her worries when the killer decides to bump up the plan by bumping her off. Can she figure it out in time to save all that she holds dear, or will Noelle be next on the list of folks who've turned up dead?
If you like laugh-out-loud southern wit, magic, and murder, you'll fall in love with this witchy cozy mystery series!
Sweet Murder, Chapter 1
Using the hem of my apron, I pulled the last batch of blueberry turnovers out of the oven and slid them onto the counter to cool. They were an even, golden brown, and a quick poke with a fork assured me the crust was light and flaky.
Perfect. The customers at Brew4U, my best friend and cousin Raeann's coffee shop, were going to eat them up. And that was good because right now every few bucks mattered.
Speaking of money—I glanced at the clock on the microwave, and that cold, I’m-gonna-be-late feeling swept over me. As always, time had gotten away from me while I was baking; I only had about fifteen minutes to get to work. Panicked, I turned the oven off with a wave of my hand, then bolted into the laundry room and pulled my server's apron and work shirt out of the dryer. I changed into the tank top on my way through the living room, grabbed my purse, and bolted out the front door.
And nearly face-planted when I tripped over our miniature donkey, Max, who was napping at the bottom of the steps.
"Watch it, you big clod,” he snapped. “Maybe I shall kick you in the head the next time you’re napping." He yawned widely, taking most of the intimidation factor out of the threat.
"If I were sleeping at the bottom of the steps, I'd expect to get kicked in the head," I said over my shoulder as I recovered and headed toward Bessie, my faded blue, shabby-chic 1984 F-150. Yes, shabby-chic is code for "POS." Don't judge me; it's paid for.
And yes, the donkey talks, but we'll get to that a little later. Trust me—after you meet him, you'll be glad for the delay.
I slid into the truck, yelping and lifting my hips when the backs of my thighs hit the searing-hot cracked leather seat. I pushed my apron under my legs and settled back gingerly, then, with an encouraging pat to the dashboard, I cranked the key. Bessie coughed and wheezed a little, but surprised me yet again when she caught and roared to life. Another check in the win column for the day. I backed out of the yard and headed down the driveway to the main road, admiring the late-morning view.
Even with my window down, the temperature inside the truck was just this side of hellfire, so I reached across the seat and cranked the passenger window down, too. Midsummer in southern Georgia was brutal. The AC in the truck had gone out a few months back and, unfortunately, fixing it didn't even make the top twenty on the laundry list of priorities that demanded a chunk of my check.
Still, as I rumbled out of the yard and drove past the horses grazing in the pasture, I figured I didn’t have a whole lot to complain about in the scheme of things. No matter how many times I traveled our mile-long driveway, I never got tired of it. Ancient oak trees draped with Spanish moss lined both sides, forming a canopy of leaves and limbs, and small patches of sunlight dappled the shaded road.
I breathed a sigh of relief as I entered the tunnel of shade and the interior of the truck finally dropped below the melting point of flesh.
Just as I turned onto the main road, I spotted a couple of deer out of the corner of my eye. When I tapped the brakes in case they decided to run out in front of me, the pedal felt spongy. Since my house sat on an overlook outside of town, much of my drive was a steady, winding descent; brakes weren't exactly optional, so I tested them again.
I was coming up on the first of several hairpin turns, so when the pedal went clear to the floor, so did my heart. Cold fingers of panic raced down my spine as I stomped on it again, then a third time, to no avail. The truck picked up speed, and as I bounced and rattled toward my demise over potholes that now felt like craters, I had only one thought: How on earth was Raeann going to finish raising my hellion of a little sister without strangling her or hexing her into a convent?
You heard right—I said "hex." We're witches, which you’d think would have come in handy right about then. You'd be right, except I was too freaked out—and busy trying not to die—to pull any magic together.
I managed to make it around the first curve, but there was another one a quarter-mile ahead. If I dropped off the road there, I would careen about three hundred yards down a steep slope and fly over a cliff into a granite quarry — assuming I didn't meet my maker by smashing headlong into a tree before then.
Adrenaline flooded my body, and I felt like I was wearing boxing gloves as I did my best to wrangle the truck into the turn. I was almost home free when the passenger-side tire dropped off the steep berm, blew with a tremendous bang, and jerked the truck off the road.
After that, it was all over but the crashing.
The truck plowed through the brush at the edge of the road and kept rumbling right on over the edge. My skull thunked off the doorframe and the forward momentum shoved my knees into the dash—in the ’80s, seatbelts weren't quite what they are now. The sound of rocks and bushes scraping the undercarriage harmonized perfectly with the terror raking over my nerves.
My head whipped forward and cracked on the steering wheel, and my seatbelt finally caught. I came so close to a giant oak that it ripped my mirror off and flung it into the truck. I scrunched my eyes shut and threw my arms up to defend my face from the incoming debris.
Then, just when I'd resigned myself to a bone-crushing demise, the truck lurched to an abrupt stop.
For a few seconds, I was afraid to open my eyes, then I was afraid not to. Metal groaned and I reached forward with shaking hands to shut the truck off. I poked my head out the window to see what had stopped my descent to certain death—or at least extreme agony and disfigurement—and saw that a little maple tree about eight inches thick was wedged between my rear bumper and the body of the truck.
Bessie slid a bit, so I didn't waste any more time. I opened the door and jumped from the cab, releasing a sigh of epic proportions as I landed relatively unscathed in the soft grass. I grabbed my purse from the floorboard and just left the door hanging open, scared the movement would send the truck the rest of the way over the hill. The last thing I needed was to completely lose my transportation, and there was no way I had enough magical mojo right then to pull it back up the hill. That trick would have been a stretch on my best day, and this definitely wasn’t that.
I bent over with my palms on my knees, waiting for my body to stop shaking enough to make the trek back toward the road. Once I had a modicum of control over my limbs, I walked up the hill a bit and collapsed onto a butt-sized rock, staring in disbelief at the sight of my beast of a truck dangling halfway down the hill from that one scrawny little maple tree. Something trickled down the side of my face and when I touched my eyebrow, my fingers came away sticky with blood. I hadn't even felt the pain until right then.
I put my head between my knees and thanked the universe for giving me a pass, and sent a grateful push of energy to the little tree. When my hands stopped shaking and my head cleared enough to allow me to think beyond surviving, I reached for my phone and scrolled through my contacts until I found the number for Skeeter's Garage and Appliances.
Don't let the name fool you; he meets all three of my gold-star requirements: he's good, he's honest, and he's cheap.
After three rings, Skeeter himself answered. I'd never been so happy to hear his cheerful twang. I gave him the 411 on what had just happened and told him where I was, grateful for once that I live in a small town where the only directions required were "the curve right above Old Man Bailey's quarry on the way to my place."
I ended the call and had turned to scramble the rest of the way up the hill when the feeling of being watched made the hairs on my nape stand up. I searched the trees and caught a glimpse of sunlight reflecting off something a hundred yards or so up the hill on the other side of the road. My gaze darted toward the glint and I scanned the spot for any other sign of movement, but all stayed still. I decided to stay right where I was, figuring it would be a whole lot harder for some ax-wielding serial killer to drag me up the hill than to just shove me in a van if I was standing conveniently by the road.
Yes, I'm a capable witch, and I live in BFE, Georgia, where the odds of a random serial killer just happening by were about the same as going to Walmart without seeing at least one hairy butt crack. But I wasn't feeling particularly rational at that point.
Pulling as much defensive magic into my hands as I could manage in my frazzled state, just in case, I leaned on a pecan tree and hoped Skeeter would hold true to his promise to get there in "two shakes of a coon's tail" before my paranoia got the better of me.
Little did I know then that just because you're paranoid doesn't mean you're wrong.
To continue reading, pick up Sweet Murder here for 99 cents, or read for free with Kindle Unlimited!
NOW FOR THE FUN PART!
If you'd like a shot to win an ebook version of the first three books in the Keyhole Lake series or a $10 Amazon gift card, leave me a comment below about whether or not you've ever visited (or are from) the South. I'll draw an individual winner from here, then at the end of the week, we'll be giving away a swag bag from all the Sleuthing Women authors, so be sure to visit each of our posts! 🙂