Mint Juleps, Mayhem, and Murder (Mom Zone Series #5)by Sara Rosett
For Ellie Avery, the hardest thing about hosting a reunion of her husband Mitch's extended Southern family is remembering everyone's name. But this summer, the festivities are cut short by news that Mitch's Air Force squadron commander has been strangled. Then Mitch's look-alike cousin narrowly misses being shot during his daily workout, and Ellie realizes that someone wants to ground Mitch--permanently. Between her kids and her organizing business, she must unravel a perplexing mystery--or Mitch's afternoon jog may be a run for his life. . ..
Don't miss Ellie Avery's great tips for busy, budget-minded moms!
"Fans of TV's Air Force Wives will appreciate Ellie, a smart crime solver who navigates the challenges of military life." --Publishers Weekly
"Some cozies just hit on all cylinders, and Rosett's Ellie Avery titles are among the best." --Library Journal
"Flows like a country creek after an all-day rain." --Shine
"A nifty mystery." --Publishers Weekly
Read an Excerpt
Mint Juleps, Mayhem, And Murder
By Sara Rosett
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Sara Rosett
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI flinched as a rifle shot fractured the air.
"Good lord, what was that?" Mitch's aunt jumped and nearly dropped the slice of peach pie she was transferring to a plate.
"Hunters," I explained, gesturing to the woods behind our backyard. "The neighborhood backs up to a state wildlife area. We hear them quite a bit, especially since deer season opened early this year." I kept my voice casual, but that shot had been awfully close, much louder than usual. I tensed, waiting for more shots, but the only sounds I heard were the low murmurings of voices punctuated with an occasional laugh from the fifty people gathered in our backyard for the annual Avery Family Reunion.
"Oh dear, I'd love a slice of that chocolate cake, too, but I really shouldn't," Mitch's aunt said as she surveyed the spread on the dessert table. Mitch's family was from Smarr, a small town outside of Montgomery, Alabama, and they were a true southern family-they overflowed with charm and friendliness and they knew how to cook. None of the new-fangled sugar substitutes, low-calorie, or low-fat recipes for them. The more butter and sugar, the better, seemed to be the family motto, which I certainly couldn't argue with, since I have an affinity for sweets myself,particularly chocolate. "Here, I'll split a piece with you," I said, trying to cover for the fact that I wasn't sure if this was Aunt Christine or Aunt Claudia. Or maybe ... Aunt Claudine? No, that wasn't right. As she cut a slice in half, I caught Mitch's gaze and mouthed the words, "Aunt Christine?"
He gave me the thumbs up, broke away from the men by the grill, and headed across the yard toward us. "Hi, Aunt Christine," Mitch said as he gave her a peck on the cheek, then ran his arm around my shoulders to give me a quick hug. "How's Grandpa Franklin doing in this humidity?" he asked her. "Would he be more comfortable inside?"
"I'm sure he would be, but he'd never admit it. He refuses to let anything slow him down. I do try to keep him hydrated," she said, holding up a bottled water dripping with condensation. "I'd better get back to him."
We watched her roly-poly figure waddle away. "She takes good care of your grandfather," I said. "She's never been married?"
"Nope, but I hear she's got a boyfriend. Aunt Nanette says the Walgreen's pharmacist is a real hottie for a sixty-year-old and keeps asking Aunt Christine to dinner. They're both metal detector enthusiasts. They met at a treasure hunt."
"You have the most interesting family," I said.
Mitch glanced at me questioningly, and I said, "Don't get defensive. I've got a few quirky types in my family tree, too. I'm the one with the aunt who recycles stray paper clips and used staples. Last time I visited, she'd collected enough to fill a large coffee can. She also makes masks from dryer lint. Cake?"
He shook his head and I devoured the last bites of the rich chocolate and creamy icing. Mitch's healthy eating habits were annoying at times, but right now I was glad to finish off the cake myself. "You know, a few bites won't hurt you."
"I've learned never to come between you and chocolate," he said, the skin around his dark eyes crinkling as he smiled.
I licked the last trace of crumbs from the fork. "Wise man. Now, since I'm fortified with chocolate, I need a refresher on that crash course you gave me on your relatives." The avalanche of Avery relatives had begun at breakfast this morning and I still hadn't sorted out all the names and faces. Mitch's military assignments had kept me from getting to know the whole Avery clan. I nodded to the picnic tables covered with red-and-white checked cloths where the aunts had gathered at the back of the yard in the shade of the loblolly pines. "Aunt Nanette is the one with the Afghan hound at her feet, right?"
"Yes. If you run out of things to talk about, ask about her new Mini Cooper."
"Really? I saw the black one with the British flag on it in the driveway, but I figured it belonged to one of your cousins. She seems more like a Cadillac type."
"Nope. She's an Anglophile who's into sporty cars. And don't forget to pet Queen," Mitch said. "If Queen likes you, Aunt Nanette will, too."
"Oh, who's that-the man with the stubble and the phoenix tattoo on his forearm? I couldn't figure him out."
"None of us can. That's my Uncle Bud. You'd never guess that he's one of the most successful real estate brokers in Alabama, would you? He still lives in the double-wide he's lived in for the last twenty years. Aunt Nanette says he doesn't just pinch pennies, he makes them beg for mercy." Mitch lowered his voice and leaned closer to me. "Don't tell anyone, but I know he sponsors one of the baseball teams in Smarr. No one else in the family knows. If it got out, it would ruin his reputation as a miser."
One of the young cousins threw open the screen door from the house and galloped across the lawn toward Mitch, her pigtails flying and our ringing cordless phone clutched in her hand. The second before the door eased closed, Rex, our rottweiler, who has a seriously scary bark but a sweet disposition, slipped outside. I'd figured keeping him inside during the reunion was a good idea. It was crazy enough in the backyard without him, but he took off, running in huge, looping circles. Queen hesitated for a second, then shot after him. I glanced at Mitch and he shrugged. "We might as well let them wear themselves out. No way we're going to catch them now."
"Thanks, Madison," Mitch said as he took the phone. He listened, then his posture changed from normal and relaxed to taut. He tilted the phone away from his face. "It's Abby."
I could tell from his face that something was wrong. My heart seemed to tumble in my chest, then drop sharply. Abby was another military spouse and my best friend. My thoughts flittered from her to her husband, Jeff, then to their son Charlie. "What is it?" I asked.
Mitch put his hand on my shoulder. "She's fine. They're all fine. It's Colonel Pershall. He's at the E.R."
"Colonel Lewis Pershall? Your squadron commander?" His words didn't make sense. Colonel Pershall couldn't be more than forty. He was a towering giant of a man. He was a sturdy, broad-shouldered black man with a barrel chest and, oddly, one of the softest-spoken people I knew. Mitch said Colonel Pershall never raised his voice at the squadron. He didn't need to. Mitch enjoyed working for him more than anyone else he'd ever worked for.
"Okay, let us know if you need anything. All right. Here's Ellie." He handed me the phone.
Abby's shaky voice came over the line. "Oh, Ellie. It's so terrible and I'm sorry to call you during the reunion. I completely forgot about it."
"Don't worry about that. What's going on?" I asked.
"It's touch and go right now," Abby said. "Someone tried to strangle him, Ellie. That sounds strange to say out loud, but that's what they said happened. He'd finished a round of golf. Another golfer found him unconscious in the parking lot beside his car."
I wasn't sure if I'd heard correctly. I turned away from the chatter and laughter. "Did you say strangled?" I asked as I pressed the phone closer to my ear.
"Yes. I know, I can't take it in either, but that's what the doctors are talking about-oxygen deprivation and jugular veins and lots of other words I don't understand, but it's serious."
"Shocked. She's not saying anything. Just sitting there. They come and talk to her and she nods, but that's about it."
"That's not like her at all," I said, thinking of the woman who hadn't been afraid to shake things up at the squadron coffees by daring to ask what the spouses wanted out of their spouse club. The thought that we didn't have to continue to meet once a month and organize fundraisers nearly caused a revolt from some spouses. Sometimes traditions die hard.
"I know," Abby said miserably. "Jeff and I were at the park and we saw the security police pull up to their house." Abby lived in base housing at Taylor Air Force Base and we'd spent several afternoons this summer at that little park situated in base housing, watching Livvy, Nathan, and Charlie clamber up and down the slides. "I went over to check on Denise. The only way I can think to describe her is shell-shocked. She was in a daze. I had to get her purse for her before she left for the hospital. It was like leading Charlie around. Jeff took Charlie home and I came up here to be with her. I'm rambling, aren't I? I think I might be in shock, too."
"No, it's okay. You're at the North Dawkins Medical Center?" I asked. North Dawkins was the city located outside Taylor's gates.
"Right, no E.R. on the base anymore, remember? I don't know if he'll be moved up to Atlanta or not. I'm going to stay until Denise's family gets here."
"We can get away for a while later tonight and come by. Do you need anything?" I asked.
"No. Denise and Lewis are the only ones who need anything. They need prayer. The outlook isn't good. They're not giving Denise much hope."
We said good-bye and I turned back to look around the yard, amazed that people still chatted, the sun still beat down. A blue jay called sharply from the trees above me, then swooped away. Nothing had changed. At least, not for us. I prayed a quick, rather incoherent prayer for Denise and Lewis and took a step toward the house, feeling like I should do something.
I stopped. There was nothing else I could do. Mitch touched my shoulder again. "Are you okay?" he asked, his face concerned.
"Yes. No. Oh, I'm okay, but poor Denise and Colonel Pershall." I couldn't even imagine what Denise was going through. "It's just ... news like that ... it's almost unbelievable. I mean, this is North Dawkins, Georgia. People don't get attacked and ... and strangled in North Dawkins. And at a golf course? Was he on base, do you think?" There was a nice course on base.
He shrugged. "I don't know. He liked to play eighteen holes on Saturday and for the last few weeks he'd been playing there. He was determined to birdie sixteen, called it his nemesis, but I suppose he could have been at one of the other neighborhood courses around here." We didn't live in a golf course neighborhood, but there were a few of those scattered around the area.
Mitch had barely finished his sentence when someone slapped him on the shoulder, nearly knocking him over. "Uncle Kenny! How are you?" Mitch asked, and I could see him slip into host-mode, despite the worry he felt.
Uncle Kenny adjusted his University of Alabama baseball cap as he said, "What do you think about the team this year? Did you hear about the new running back? I think we've got a real shot at the SEC West."
I stood by and listened, but wasn't able to contribute much to the conversation. My thoughts were still with Denise and Colonel Pershall. I put the slim phone in my shorts pocket and pulled my thoughts back to the scene in front of me. Abby would call if anything changed. Right now, I had to concentrate on the reunion.
I tried to remember what I'd learned about Uncle Kenny and Aunt Gwen during last year's reunion. I knew they'd cornered the market on roadside boiled peanut stands. They loved the Crimson Tide and were extremely competitive. The volleyball game at the reunion last year had been as hard fought as an Olympic match with Uncle Kenny and Aunt Gwen captaining the two teams. I also remembered that Mitch said they'd wanted to paint the trim on their house crimson earlier this summer, but regulations in their subdivision had forced them to limit the crimson to their front door. I was too shaken to figure out how to work any of those topics into the conversation, so I was relieved to see Mitch's mom, Caroline, walk up with a droopy Nathan snuggled into the crook of her arm.
Caroline was an interesting mixture of reticence and southern charm. She could fold a fitted sheet so that it looked like a flat sheet and that fact alone intimidated me. She wore the same Avery Family Reunion T-shirt we were all wearing, but on her it looked stylish. She'd gathered the hem of the shirt and fastened it through a clip above her trim hip. The clip matched her heavy silver earrings, which set off her silvery-white hair that swung against her jawbone as she swayed back and forth to keep Nathan dozy. Despite the heat, she looked as fresh as she did when she stepped out of the car this morning at the end of our driveway, carrying her famous peach pies and homemade rolls.
"Are you okay, Ellie? You look a little pale."
I followed Mitch's lead and said, "I'm fine. We just got a call with some bad news about a friend in the hospital." I left it at that. There was no need to trouble everyone at the reunion with the terrible news.
"That's a shame. I hope there's a quick recovery."
"Thanks, I hope so, too. Looks like Nathan is ready for a nap." There's nothing like my kids to keep me grounded and in the moment. I ran my hand down his limp, plump arm. Lately, he'd been boycotting naps, but he needed one today.
"Would you mind if I put him down?" Caroline asked, and I said not at all. Then she said, "Thank you so much for hosting the reunion this year. Everything's been lovely. With the remodel, there's no way we could have done it."
"Glad we could help out. It was nothing."
I heard what sounded like a snort from Mitch and leveled my gaze at him, but he kept his attention fixed on Uncle Kenny, who was saying, "The secret to winning at croquet is all in the order of play ..."
"Nonsense," Caroline said. "I know how much work this is and you've pulled it off beautifully." Uncle Kenny noticed some of the guys setting up a game of horseshoes and went to join them. Mitch fell into step beside me as Caroline and I walked back to the house. One of Mitch's cousins-in-law, Felicity, nearly ran over us as she marched across the grass.
"Felicity," Caroline called, "I haven't seen Dan. Where is he?"
"Gone. He's never around anymore. I should have known better than to assume he'd skip his jog during the family reunion."
"Oh, so that was him I saw trotting down the driveway earlier? I thought it was you, Mitch," Caroline said. "You boys always have looked so much alike-same dark hair and eyes. And, you're both tall and lanky."
"I was going to run with him, but I'm not feeling one hundred percent." Mitch rubbed his hand over his stomach. "I know I couldn't keep up with him in this humidity." Unlike in so many conversations I'd had today when I had no clue about who was being discussed, I actually knew Mitch's cousin Dan. He and his wife, Felicity, had arrived yesterday and spent the night at our house. Almost everyone else, including Mitch's parents, had driven in earlier in the day.
"I knew we shouldn't have left Aunt Christine's potato salad in the sun so long," I said, but Mitch waved his hand and said, "It's nothing like that. Too much food, probably."
"Are you boys enjoying catching up with each other?" Caroline asked. Mitch said they were and Caroline turned toward me. "They got in more scrapes growing up. Have you heard about the time they hid on the roof all afternoon to avoid Summer?" Caroline asked, referring to Mitch's younger sister.
"That was the time you called the police when you couldn't find them?" I was glad Nathan was too young to pick up any details of his dad's misdeeds.
"Amazing that I can laugh about it now, isn't it, Mitch?" Caroline said.
"It's amazing I can even talk about it," Mitch countered. "Besides one heck of a sunburn, I couldn't sit down for about a week."
"Dan's not nearly as much fun now," Felicity said crossly. "Unless you're discussing the new spin class or weightlifting, forget it. You might as well be speaking a foreign language to him." With her brows lowered and jaw clenched, she reminded me of the dark thunderhead clouds I'd seen as a kid in the Texas panhandle.
Actually, comparing her to a thunderhead was a bit incongruous, since she was petite and skinny. Correction, she wasn't just thin, she was toned. There was barely an ounce of fat on her, except maybe in her cheekbones above her pert nose and pointed chin. With curly brown hair cropped short in a boyish style, she looked every inch the athlete she was. A fitness instructor at a gym in Montgomery, she taught Pilates, spinning, yoga, aerobics, and a scary-sounding class called Killer Boot Camp. Felicity continued, "Sorry he talked so much last night about his metabolism."
Excerpted from Mint Juleps, Mayhem, And Murder by Sara Rosett Copyright © 2010 by Sara Rosett. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >