Southerners keep their secrets swept under the rug, but what happens when that rug goes up for sale?
Bestselling author Berlye Stone, the most famous citizen to ever come out of Cottonwood, Kentucky, has died and put all her worldly possessions up for auction, but not without leaving one more manuscript behind. A hidden tell-all about Cottonwood that’s got more gossip than a ladies’ luncheon.
When Beryle’s assistant turns up with an ax in her back and the only witness is in a coma, Sheriff Kenni Lowry reckons someone in town will do anything to keep the manuscript from seeing the light of day. Her poppa’s ghost returns to help piece together the life of the Beryle he once knew, but his memory’s a little foggy, and any misstep could cause them a world of trouble. With the help of Deputy Finn Vincent, can Kenni sort through the secrets buried in Beryle’s books, or will this be her final chapter?
“I am totally hooked. The people of Cottonwood feel like dear friends, and I enjoy reading about the latest happenings…The story is well-told, with plenty of action and suspense, along with just enough humor to take the edge off.” – Book Babble
Related subjects include: cozy mysteries, women sleuths, murder mystery series, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), humorous murder mysteries, book club recommendations, amateur sleuth books, Southern humor, small town, ghost stories, paranormal mysteries.
Books in the Kenni Lowry Mystery Series:
FIXIN’ TO DIE (#1)
SOUTHERN FRIED (#2)
AX TO GRIND (#3)
SIX FEET UNDER (#4)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all.
Author Bio: Tonya Kappes has written over 20 novels and 4 novellas, all of which have graced numerous bestseller lists including USA Today. Best known for stories charged with emotion and humor, and filled with flawed characters, her novels have garnered reader praise and glowing critical reviews. She lives with her husband, three teenage boys, two very spoiled schnauzers, and one ex-stray cat in Kentucky.
Read an Excerpt
"What exactly are we looking for again?" Finn asked, rubbing his hand through his hair. He stood in the corner of the bedroom of Hattie Hankle with a wooden Louisville Slugger in his hand, his face clouded with uneasiness.
"Just tap the bat on the floor a few times," I said, my head stuck up under Hattie's bed, only to find what looked to be at least a hundred crumpled-up plastic grocery store bags, rolls of paper towels, and toilet paper that filled every single inch of space under the bed's box spring.
"Get, you critter," I said a little louder than normal so Hattie could hear me from the other side of the shut door.
"Get away," Finn repeated, tapping the bat on the hardwood floor a few times. "Seriously, what kind of critter again?" His eyebrows rose.
I tugged the bed skirt down and stood up, brushing the front of my sheriff's uniform off in case I'd gotten some dust bunnies on me.
"Critters." I smiled. "You haven't gotten to experience a Hattie Hankle call."
I sat on the edge of Hattie's bed and patted my hand on the flowered quilt that lay on the mattress. Finn sat next to me. Living in a small town like Cottonwood, Kentucky, there were many calls that probably weren't necessary for the sheriff to respond to, but the citizens pulled their weight around our small town and that was one thing that made us special.
"Hattie lives here in the bed and breakfast. She doesn't have any family, and she can't live on her own. She has some special needs. My poppa always said Hattie would always be childlike, which wasn't a bad thing, because she would never know the evils of the world. She's been living in the Inn as far back as I can remember. She thinks there are critters running around her room." I grinned. "I know it sounds crazy, but she calls dispatch and I come here and pretend to catch them or tell her I've run them off. It satisfies her for a couple of months."
"A couple of months?" Finn's jaw dropped along with his shoulders.
"Every time it's something different. Plus, I feel a little bad for her, and it's nice to sit and chat for a while." I shrugged and stood up. "She doesn't get much company, I don't think. Or at least that's what I've heard."
Meaning the little bit of idle gossip that generally circulated during my weekly girl's night out Euchre game.
Even though Finn had been a deputy in my department for a couple of months and he'd mostly gotten used to the small-town life here in Cottonwood, it was still entertaining to watch his reactions to some of our more colorful citizens.
"Did you get it?" Hattie asked from the other side of the bedroom door. "Is there a lot of blood?"
I walked over to the door and jerked it open. The bottom of the long window curtain with the same flower pattern as the quilt swung out and rested in a billowy cloud of fabric on the floor.
"Well?" Hattie tilted her head to one side to listen. Her gray hair, styled like a football helmet, didn't move — a sure sign she'd been to her weekly hair appointment down at Tiny Tina's, Cottonwood's only salon and full-service spa. And by full-service, I meant massages with stones that came right out of the Kentucky River that ran along our small town. Somehow Tiny Tina's passed those rocks off as fancy.
"The critter is all taken care of," I said, leaning in close to her ear when I noticed she wasn't wearing her hearing aids. "Where are your hearing aids?" "My ears?" She jerked around and took a few shaky steps into the small living area, where she had a matching taupe loveseat and couch. The room opened up into a small kitchenette with a round table that had two chairs across from each other. The table was set as though she were about to have company, but that was what most of the tables in Cottonwood looked like. It was the proper thing to do in the South.
Of course, my table wasn't. Instead it was piled high with old community coupon papers and junk mail. Not Hattie. There wasn't a thing out of place. Every time I'd come to visit her, it was spotless.
Slowly Hattie's head turned toward me. Her eyes squinted in a furtive manner. "I bet that critter took them."
"I'll be sure to let Darby know," I said to ease her mind. Darby Gray owns The Inn and has always been the one I knew of that took good care of Hattie.
I glanced back at Finn, who was still sitting on Hattie's bed as if he were trying to process what he'd just witnessed.
No doubt his mind was running around itself wondering what on Earth he'd gotten himself into, probably having second thoughts about recently taking the deputy sheriff's position.
"Did you get a look at that thing?" Hattie let go of her cane and lifted her hands in the air, forming them into claws. "Big claw hands and big teeth." She chomped her teeth together. "Did it hiss at you?"
"I don't know," I said, turning back to Finn. I smiled. "Officer Vincent was the one who caught it and threw it out the window. Did it hiss?" I teased Finn.
"Like a snake," he said, playing along as he walked over to us.
That was one thing that I liked about getting to know Finn, not only through our job but also on a personal level. He could go with the flow, and he was quick and witty. All qualities that made him so appealing.
"I'm glad you got you a new sidekick," Hattie said, pointing her bony finger at Finn. "You take over Lonnie's job?"
I was a little surprised Hattie remembered that Lonnie Lemar had retired as my sheriff's deputy.
"Yes, ma'am." Finn nodded and rocked back and forth on his heels. "I'm happy to be here in Cottonwood."
"Who's your kin?" She blinked owlishly.
"My who?" Finn asked.
"Your kin folk," I said, finding it a little disturbing how cute he was when he was confused. "Hattie, you'll have to excuse Finn. He's from Chicago. Finn, Hattie wanted to know who you're related to around here."
"A northerner, huh?" She nodded. "No wonder."
"No wonder what?" Finn asked.
"No wonder you're the talk of the town." Hattie's eyes fluttered. "You're a handsome thing."
Hattie Hankle might be hard of hearing, but her eyesight was just fine.
As Finn's face reddened, he shifted and dropped his head. "That's nice of you to say. Thank you."
"Aw, Hattie," I teased. "Who's going around telling you about our friend Finn here?"
It was fun to aggravate him and put him on the spot.
"Paige told me," Hattie said, speaking of Paige Lemar, an employee at the bed and breakfast. Hattie nodded with a big grin on her face. She elbowed me. "You might think about this one."
"Are you ready?" My head jerked up. Hattie Hankle trying to fix me up was my cue that it was time to leave. "It was nice to see you, Hattie." I took a step toward the door.
"You aren't staying for a cup of afternoon coffee?" Hattie asked.
"Not today." There was no way I was going to hang around — even though the sheriff's department had been quiet for a few months — and listen to Hattie Hankle inform me on what a cute couple Finn Vincent and I would make.
My mama had already mastered that task, and I could barely stand listening to her. And she was my mom.
"Let us know if you have any more problems with those critters." I opened the door.
Finn followed me, put his hand on the open door, and held it for me.
"And a gentleman at that." Hattie nodded a few slow times and drew her lips into a tight smile.
"Have a great day." I stepped out into the hallway of the Inn.
"That was rude," Finn said with a look of amusement on his face after we'd stepped out into the hall.
"What was rude?" I asked, glancing over Finn's shoulder to make sure Hattie had shut her door. Sometimes after I left, she'd forget to and then wander around into other people's rooms at the Inn.
It was part of her childlike ways, but I had a hard time explaining to customers at the Inn when they'd call me because there was an intruder in their hotel room when it was only Hattie. She was harmless.
"You didn't agree that I was a gentleman," he joked, pulling the corners of his lips up slightly.
"Ha ha." I rolled my eyes, barely missing knocking down a guest on our way down the hall.
The smell of paint tickled my nose. The note taped on the wall warned of the freshly painted walls. The new powder blue color went well with the bamboo wood floor. There were six rooms on this floor and two suites on the third floor.
"What about you being the talk of the town?"
"Who is Paige?" he asked.
"Paige Lemar. Lonnie's wife." We stopped at the top of the staircase to let a few guests pass us. "She's the Inn's housekeeper."
"You want to go grab a bite to eat?" Finn asked on our way down the staircase to the first floor where the registration was located.
For a split second I thought about it. But there was no way I could cancel my weekly Euchre night with the girls. I'd much rather be spending the time with Finn, even though the conversation would be about work.
I looked into the gathering room in the front of the Inn to see if Darby was in there. She wasn't. Only a few guests were sitting by the fireplace. Just the sight of the flaming logs made me excited for the best season in Kentucky. Autumn.
Maybe Darby was outside. I wanted to let her know about Hattie's missing hearing aids.
"I'd love to, but I can't." I shrugged off the light fall breeze that sent chills along my arms when it hit my neck after we walked out through the screen door. "Euchre." I patted my belly. "You know there will be good food there."
"Let me know if they decide to let guys in." He winked. I gulped. "Maybe another time. See you in the morning at the ceremony?" he asked.
"Sounds good." I stood on the top step and watched him head toward his car.
He sucked in a deep breath and, with his chin up in the air, looked around the landscape. The prism of trees that blocked the view of the Kentucky River behind the Inn had painted the landscape in orange, yellow, and red leaves. This was the perfect time of the year in Kentucky. Mid-seventy degrees during the day and mid-fifties at night. The nippy evening air told me fall was in full swing and soon all the trees would paint a beautiful canvas across Cottonwood.
"I love Chicago, don't get me wrong, but this." Finn's arms stretched out in front of him. "This is amazing."
Both of us stood there enjoying the view with silence between us. It was fun seeing him take in the fall scenery for the first time since he'd moved to Cottonwood.
He waved me off on his way to his Dodge Charger.
I stood on the front porch of the Inn until I saw the taillights of his car round the corner before I turned to go back into the Inn to find to Darby.
"Duke, where did you come from?" I asked my bloodhound, who was lying in a sunny spot on the wood porch floor. I'd dropped him off at home after I'd gotten the critter call from dispatch.
"Where'd you come from?" Kiwi, the Inn's green macaw mascot, clasped his claws around the wire of the domed bird cage that stood at the end of the porch. His head bobbed up and down. "I came from Beryle's and couldn't find the book. Couldn't find the book. Glad she's dead."CHAPTER 2
"Stay, Duke," I instructed my dog, who was too busy sniffing new smells to even greet me. I wanted to make sure he didn't scare Kiwi before I could question the bird.
He was a great dog — if it weren't for him taking a bullet for me in the line of duty a few months ago, I wouldn't be here. Tomorrow the town was going to give him an award. It was a pretty big deal around these parts, and word around the street was that everyone was going to be there. Even Lonnie Lemar, my ex-deputy that had come out of retirement to run against me in the next election.
I glanced around the large porch to see if anyone else was around and might've heard Kiwi, but there wasn't. Pops of white, yellow, pink, lavender, red, and bronze mums were strategically placed around the porch and down the steps. They seemed to frill themselves in the last bit of the day's sun.
"Hi, Kiwi." I walked over to greet the bird. "What did you say about someone dead?" I questioned the bird like it was going to tell me.
"Hi, Kiwi," Kiwi repeated. The bird was good at repeating and I had no idea why on Earth I thought I was going to be able to question him.
"Glad who is dead?" I asked the bird, hoping he'd repeat what I thought I'd heard.
"Hi, Kiwi. Cold out here." The bird lifted one claw in the air and sent a wave of ruffled feathers up his neck.
"It's almost too cold out here for you." I ran my hands up and down my arms to ward off any more goosebumps before I poked my finger through the cage and pet him on his tiny little head. He bobbed up and down with delight.
"There you are." Mama's voice floated to me with the breeze.
She stood behind the screened front door inside the Inn.
The hinges on the old door creaked when she pushed it open and it smacked closed behind her.
"Mama? What are you doing here?" I asked.
"Since I won the cook-off, all sorts of local restaurants have asked me to cook something for them." She tapped the Vote For Lowry pin stuck proudly on her chest. "Now, don't you worry that pretty little head that I produced with this here body." She dragged her hand down her body, starting at her head and ending at her toes. She was good at reminding me where I'd come from, like I didn't know. "I'm still working for your election. Free of charge, I might add."
"Thank you, Mama." I was grateful that Mama had taken over my re-election campaign. I just wasn't sure if she was hurting or helping, since she was going around either pushing my re-election propaganda on the citizens or threatening them. Either way, Mama was very persuasive. "Did you pick up Duke?" I asked, though I already knew.
Mama had a key to my house, and she let herself inside whenever she felt like it. It was a bit of a privacy issue, but it was typical of family in a tight-knit community.
"I did." She sashayed down the porch toward me and eased herself into one of the many rocking chairs Darby had strategically dotted along the front porch of the Inn. "His little brown droopy eyes just tugged on my heart after I'd spent all morning over there using your oven."
"You used my oven?" I asked.
"Honey, I had to get my hot browns cooked so your daddy stayed at our house keeping an eye on those while I got my Derby Pies cooked at your house." She acted as if I should know her calendar. "I knew I was going to see you at Euchre, so I just brought him along."
"Good evening, Kenni." Darby had ambled around the Inn with a basket full of colorful leaves that'd already fallen off the trees. Her brown hair was swept up in a knot on the top of her head. Her almond-shaped brown eyes stared at me for a moment before she turned to my mama. "Your Derby Pie is the talk of the Inn. I'm going to need about five more for tomorrow."
"I have plenty that I made today and put in the freezer. I'll put them on the windowsill tonight to thaw and you can warm them at three hundred and fifty before you serve them. You know a little scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of that warm pie is just a slice of heaven."
Don't get me wrong, Mama had always made good country homemade suppers when I'd lived at home and even when I'd come home during college visits, but I never knew she could win a cook-off.
"Perfect." Darby sat down on the porch's top step and scooted all the way up to the wood railing to let some arriving guests pass by. "I can taste it now." She licked her lips.
"Business must be good." I noted the flurry of activity.
"Didn't you hear?" Darby's forehead puckered. "Beryle Stone's estate is being auctioned off this week."
"Really?" I was a little taken aback. Beryle Stone was a famous author who was from Cottonwood.
Estate sales around these parts were a dime a dozen. I tried to recall if I'd heard through the grapevine about Beryle's auction, but I couldn't remember. There was so much gossip flung around, my immune system had gotten used to it and I was good at drowning it out.
The estate wasn't far from the Inn and it too overlooked the Kentucky River. Probably the best view of the river in Cottonwood. "I thought that place was dilapidated. I wonder what state she finally decided to spend the rest of her life in."
It wasn't as if Beryle Stone was young.
"The state is six feet under," Darby said. She pushed herself up to stand. "You've been living under a rock, Kenni Lowry."
"Six feet under? Beryle is dead?" I gulped and looked at Kiwi.
"It's been the talk of the town for a while now. Ruby Smith is rumored to be the executor of her estate." Darby seemed to know more than rumors.
"Executor?" I asked, a bit shocked. "Ruby Smith and Beryle were that good of friends?"
I found that strange since I'd never heard Ruby mention Beryle. I was sure it was all over town, especially since Beryle was a big-time author. Unfortunately, I'd never read anything she'd written nor did I have time to visit the gossip circles Mama and Darby were participants in.
"I hate to hear this." There was a tug of sadness on my heart. It was a shame to hear when anyone passed. "Was she sick?"
"Must've been. She's dead, ain't she?" Mama said. Darby simple shrugged.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ax to Grind"
Copyright © 2017 Tonya Kappes.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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