As director of the Ballantyne Foundation on Sea Pine Island, SC, Elliott Lisbon scratches her detective itch by performing discreet inquiries for Foundation donors. Usually nothing more serious than retrieving a pilfered Pomeranian.
Until Jane Hatting, Ballantyne board chair, is accused of murder. The Ballantyne’s reputation tanks, Jane’s headed to a jail cell, and Elliott’s sexy ex is the new lieutenant in town.
Armed with moxie and her Mini Coop, Elliott uncovers a trail of blackmail schemes, gambling debts, illicit affairs, and investment scams. But the deeper she digs to clear Jane’s name, the guiltier Jane looks.
The closer she gets to the truth, the more treacherous her investigation becomes: a brutal attack on her own suspect and the murder of a witness.
With victims piling up faster than shells at a clambake, Elliott realizes she’s next on the killer’s list.
Start your next binge read with the PI-in-training dubbed “the Stephanie Plum of the South” from Agatha-Nominated author, Kendel Lynn. It’s mischief and misfortune you do not want to miss.
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BOARD STIFF by Kendel Lynn | A Henery Press Mystery. If you like one, you'll probably like them all.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
An Elliott Lisbon Mystery
By Kendel Lynn
Henery PressCopyright © 2012 Kendel Lynn
All rights reserved.
I'm embarrassed to admit my most vivid memory of that night is of ten minutes in the library with Nick Ransom. In my defense, three of those minutes were damn good minutes, and I had no idea the murder of a colleague was only a few hours away.
I was seeking refuge from the well-dressed and well-heeled at a party for the Ballantyne Foundation when Ransom walked back into my life. I stiffened at the sight. His smooth skin and sharp features made my breath catch, just as they had twenty years before. He looked like Batman. Christian Bale Batman, not the other one in the gray leotard and blue underpants.
"Elli Lisbon." He leaned in and kissed my cheek. "I'd heard you were Director of the Ballantyne Foundation."
"Well, Nick Ransom. How disappointing. I thought you were dead."
He rocked back on his heels and smiled. "No, not dead yet. Though a sniper in Rio came close."
Nick Ransom, my college major. I loved him from afar until he asked me out during our first class together. We rounded three bases over five dates and would've slid home on the sixth had he not left me waiting in the rain a week before Christmas. Two days later he left a seven-word message on my answering machine: "Not our time, Red. You take care." I never saw him again.
Until tonight. I'd heard Ransom had moved back to the island, so I knew I'd see him sooner or later. I'd just been counting on later. And certainly not at a private fundraiser I organized myself, including a specific list of attendees that did not include his name.
He ran his finger along the spines of the leather-bound books, as if browsing the Ballantyne's stunning collection of classics and first editions. They were stacked floorboard to ceiling on wide mahogany bookshelves with an elegant brick fireplace in between.
The warm smell of burning wood mixed with the tangy scent of aged paper and Ransom's intoxicating cologne. Sandalwood and ginger. The fire snapped, and I ducked around a rolling ladder to the other side of the fireplace.
"You look the same, Red," he said.
"I'm surprised you remember me."
"You wouldn't believe the things I remember about you."
I sucked in my stomach. Thank God I had the good sense to splurge on a new pleated floral dress and the cutest pair of buckle pumps. Yes, I needed to lose ten pounds. Okay, fifteen. But the thought of him seeing me naked? I vowed right then to stop eating cupcakes and get my butt back on the bike first thing the next morning.
Funny how I jumped to naked.
"So, Ransom, what brings you to the Big House? I didn't see your name on the guest list."
"Were you looking?"
I started to shake my head, a denial fresh on my lips when he stepped closer. His gaze held mine for so long, I forgot my own name. He took my face in his hands and kissed me as if the ship was sinking and the lifeboats were full. Thirty seconds later, his hands slipped from my neck to my waist, slowly gathering my skirt up by the hem.
Oh boy. I slapped my palm on the bookshelf, using it as leverage in case I accidentally slid to the floor. I drank in his taste. The feel of his chest beneath my hands. The feel of his hands beneath my skirt. It felt so good, so delicious. So familiar.
I pulled back. The years between us dissipated like sand slipping through an hourglass. The lines around his eyes faded and he looked at me with his same boyish grin. His eyes were dark, full of mischief.
He was a scoundrel and a shit. And he was standing in my sanctuary. Invading my Ballantyne. Uninvited.
I tilted my head up at him. "Well, that wasn't worth waiting for. Still all fumbly hands and sloppy kisses. You really should be better at this by now."
The mischief in his eyes dimmed and I patted him on the cheek. "Maybe it's not our time. You take care."
My heels sank into the deep wool rug as I crossed the library. They were higher than I was used to and I prayed I wouldn't trip on the way out. "See you in another twenty years," I said and closed the door.
Holy shit, I thought. Did I really just walk out on Nick Ransom? I couldn't have planned a better exit if I'd been given two weeks' notice and a script. I did a little dance across the foyer of the Big House just as Tod Hayes, Ballantyne Administrator, hit the bottom step of the center staircase. His normally neat brown hair had a decidedly disheveled look.
"Finally, Elliott. I've been all over this place looking for you."
"Here I am." I glanced over my shoulder, but the doors to the library remained closed. "Shall we go up to the party?"
Grabbing his sleeve, I practically dragged him up the wide steps toward the ballroom where one hundred and fifty guests drank and danced at the Foundation's May Bash fundraiser at the Big House on Sea Pine Island, South Carolina.
The Ballantyne manse earned its nickname for the obvious: it had the grandeur of a city mansion and the grace of a country estate. The house sat up high amidst acres of magnolia trees and live oaks, sharing its majesty with the whole plantation. Figuratively, of course. The Big House offered no tours, visiting hours, or party rentals. Receiving a Ballantyne invitation in your mailbox was akin to finding a golden ticket in a chocolate bar.
Tod was helping me man the Bash in the absence of the Ballantynes, who were on safari in India. Or maybe it was mountain climbing in Pakistan. They entrusted me with their life's work while away doing more life's work. Tonight that included acting as one part host and one part referee.
"So what's up? Is Mr. Abercorn dancing naked on the tables again?"
"Not quite," Tod said. "You have three fires to put out, though Jane is more of a firestorm of seething lava and flaming fireballs."
"Don't be so melodramatic." I glanced at my watch. It was already past eleven, dreadfully late for a party that started at five. How did I miss seeing Nick Ransom for the last six hours? My lips tingled at the thought of him being so close. Traitors.
Tod snapped his fingers. "Hello, Elliott?"
"Right, melodramatic. Things can't be that terrible, can they?"
"Jane is beheading board members, Mr. Colbert is serving guests from the canapés stuffed in his pockets, and Mrs. Kramer is singing with the band."
"That doesn't sound so bad."
"They're in the men's room."
"Naturally. Well, then, you take Jane, I'll take the other two." I stepped toward the gallery, where the men's lounge was located, but Tod stopped me before I lifted my left foot.
"Sorry, Elliott, I'll be taking the easy ones this time. You already got lucky once tonight."
At my quizzical glance, he said, "You have lipstick on your chin and your skirt is twisted."
I felt my cheeks go pink as I straightened my skirt. I hoped no one outside the ballroom noticed or told the Ballantynes about my inability to reign in the cuckoos. Or my inability to maintain my dignity in the face of a twenty-year-old broken heart. "This party is killing me. Literally killing me."
"Yes, literally. Emotionally killing me on the inside, Tod. On the inside."
He rolled his eyes. "Good luck with Jane. Last I heard, she was on the terrace telling Leo Hirschorn to shove his humanitarian trophy up his ass." He waved and turned toward the gallery, leaving me to deal with firestorm number one.
Jane Walcott Hatting had been the chair of the Ballantyne board for the last eleven years. She owned an esteemed auction house in nearby Savannah, served as president of the local historical preservation society, and was the most unpleasant person on planet Earth. To find her, I merely had to follow the bursts of indignation through the crowd, like following a trail of burning buildings to locate Godzilla.
After a small detour to get my makeup redistributed to all the right facial features, I found Jane at the bar near the dessert table. She wore a tailored black dress and her expensive salon-cut hair framed her oval face and wickedly sharp eyes.
"Hey, Skippy," Jane said to the young bartender as she slid a martini glass across the bar top. "Do I look like James Bond? A martini should be gently stirred. It's a cocktail, not a can of spray paint. Try again, and this time haul out the good stuff. I'm not here for the company."
Ah, Jane. Such a people person.
"Good evening, Jane. Enjoying yourself, as always?"
She eyeballed me. "What the hell do you want?"
"Please stop harassing Leo Hirschorn. He's a respected member of the board."
"He's an embarrassment to the Foundation. A scheming buffoon with a loud mouth and a crass manner. He's done."
I smiled as a wealthy donor walked by. As soon as she was out of earshot, I said, "Keep your voice down, Jane. A Foundation project idea is not a scheme."
She gave me a look as flat as her tone. "You're so naïve, it's almost endearing."
"I'm not going to fight with you about Leo."
"This isn't a fight, Elliott. It's barely a conversation. As for Leo, he's off the board."
"That's not your decision."
The young bartender gently set Jane's fresh drink on a tiny napkin square. She belted it back, then slammed the glass down. The little olive on a stick flipped out and rolled onto the floor. "I don't care what I have to do, but we'll be sitting a new board at Monday's meeting." She snatched her beaded bag from the bar and stalked away.
This isn't going to end well, I thought.
I followed her through the ornate archway, but then she marched down the staircase and out the front door. I sighed. It's always a relief when the party's worst guest bids adieu without actually setting the place on fire.
Not two seconds later, Ransom appeared in the foyer with his arm around an exotic woman. She had dark hair to her waist and legs to her elbows and wore a clingy short dress that said Hot Damn! He tipped his head toward me, then followed Jane outside.
I snuck down to the library on wobbly legs. Ransom's cologne lingered in the air, along with a faint musky aroma of Cuban tobacco. I slipped into a tall leather wingback near the window and watched as a crew of valets in short red jackets sprinted to and fro, quickly fetching cars hidden behind the palm trees in the side lot.
A sleek silver sports car slid up to the walk. The valet hopped out as Ransom escorted his date down the path. He slowly kissed her neck, his hand low on her hip, and then poured her into the leather seat.
"Well, that was unnecessary," I whispered.
He turned his head toward the library as if he'd heard me. I don't think he saw me behind the glass, but I slouched down anyway. He walked around the car, slammed into the driver's seat, and sped away. I watched his taillights fade into the darkness, until they were gone.
So long, Batman.
I sighed and stood and went up to the ballroom. It took another two hours for Tod and me to shuffle the rest of the guests out the door. Funny how people are never mindful of the time when lounging around with someone else's booze. I finally approached the last three couples with a gift of fine wine from the cellar to enjoy once they made it home.
It was close to two a.m. when I climbed into my white Mini Cooper convertible and drove the short two miles from the Big House to my cottage on the beach, a mere fifty yards from the Atlantic. Exhaustion weighed down my limbs as if my bones were made of metal and the road was a magnet. I kept the top down to stay awake. I pictured myself in my striped pajamas, head resting on a fluffy down pillow. It was Sunday; I had a busy morning, but the rest of the day free. No Foundation, no meetings, no Jane. Nothing to do but nap. Maybe I'd even sleep through dinner.
Of course, I wasn't that lucky.CHAPTER 2
I was so tired, it hurt to wake up. I cracked open one eye and focused on the clock: 5:27. I opened the other eye. Dim stars glittered in the dark skylight in the ceiling above my bed. Morning had yet to break.
On paper, my Foundation director duties seemed prestigious. Organize fundraisers, research grant recipients, liaise between the board members and the Ballantyne family. But in reality, I felt less like a charity director and more like a camp counselor, herding misbehaving campers. Cleaning up their messes and breaking up their fights. And today was the worst: early morning mess hall duty for two different board members. First a quick run to Leo Hirschorn's to set up a breakfast meeting, then back to the Big House to set up the Coastal Conservation brunch.
But if I rushed, I could be back, snuggled under my quilt, before nine.
I threw on sweats, a clean t-shirt, and an old canvas beach hat to hide my snarled hair. It's red and wavy and hard to tame fresh out of bed. But it's not as if I have much of a beauty regime anyway. I don't color my gray (I only have like five strands) and I rarely wear make-up.
After a quick face scrub and swipe of a toothbrush, I gulped down a Pepsi. Even though I like my caffeine cold, let me tell you, gulping down an ice-cold carbonated drink at half-past five in the morning is not all it's cracked up to be.
In fifteen minutes flat—from alarm to driveway—I was on the road. The sun had begun to peek over the Atlantic as I streaked out the gate and onto the main highway.
Sea Pine Island is shaped like a shoe—a Converse sneaker, to be more accurate. The bridge to mainland South Carolina is at the high-top part and the lighthouse is at the toe. But rather than canvas—to carry this analogy to its most unbearable conclusion—the island is made up of thick oaks, pines, palms, an occasional shopping alcove, and a dozen or so plantations: housing communities fronted by large iron gates and armed guards.
I sped down Cabana Boulevard to the largest plantation: Harborside. It housed a ninety-foot lighthouse and a marina with the nicest yachts in a five-hundred-mile radius. The kind with onboard helicopters and motorcycles, in case you needed a vacation from your vacation.
The large traffic circle was quiet, as was the guardhouse. Leo had called in a pass for me. Without a resident sticker and a pin number, one generally needed an act of Congress to gain entry. Or at the very least, needed to be the pizza delivery guy.
With the pass tucked securely into the dash, I wound around the drive to Sparrow Road, then turned left on Ravenwood Lane, a curvy street of large stucco homes with manicured lawns, matching mailboxes, and sweeping golf course views. After I parked at number fifty-two, I hauled out a heavy box of brochures, forms, and a detailed diorama. Supplies for Leo's breakfast meeting. Even though I hated waking before the chickens did, I wanted to be the one to display the diorama. I designed it myself.
I knocked on the door and it slowly swung open.
I stepped in, and something crunched beneath my feet.
"Leo?" I called and flipped on the light switch.
My breath caught in my throat. Broken glass and ripped furniture littered the front room, and a stench from the kitchen nearly knocked me flat. Glops of spilled food from smashed jars pooled on the countertops. Spicy red salsa and pungent vinegar melded together on the bright white tiles. In a word: disgusting. I didn't know which way to breathe: through my nose and smell it or through my mouth and taste it.
Knives were strewn haphazardly on the floor. A single butcher's blade had been slammed into the breakfast room table. I shuffled forward. A piece of glass snapped under my left foot. I kicked something else with my right. Something solid, but malleable. Weighty and dense. I did not want to look down.
I looked down.
My toes were touching a large dark leather sofa cushion, cut across the seam. I almost giggled with relief. I peered past a broken chair into an oak-paneled den with a large desk beneath a bay window. And Leo Hirschorn dead on the floor.
His head was smashed into the base of a grandfather clock, covered in at least a gallon of blood. His eyes were open and he was staring right at me.
In two seconds, I screamed blue murder, whirled around, cracked my elbow on the doorjamb, dropped the diorama on my left foot, and ran.
I didn't stop until my shaking hands gripped the car door. I dove inside. My thoughts registered like a flashing road sign: Lock the door, start the car, drive like a crazy woman. I scrambled for my keys, finding them deep inside my left front pocket.
My sense finally returned when the key hit the ignition. A wild-eyed maniac had not run out of the house after me. I looked around. The neighborhood was quiet, almost serene, with dewy lawns and potted flowers on porches.
Excerpted from Board Stiff by Kendel Lynn. Copyright © 2012 Kendel Lynn. 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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What People are Saying About This
Completely entertaining! A solid and satisfying mystery, yes indeed, and the fabulous and funny Elliot Lisbon is a true gem! Engaging, clever and genuinely delightful. - Hank Phillippi Ryan, Agatha, Anthony and Macavity winning author
A sparkling new voice in traditional mystery. New York Times Bestselling Author CJ Lyons
I enjoyed this book immensely…They are all delightfully different protagonists and all are definitely in the Cozy Mystery genre, which I love…Most of us are always looking for a great new series or author to read. This introduces three of them. Five stars out of five.— Lynn Farris, National Mystery Review Examiner at Examiner.com
Those who enjoy travel and mysteries like myself will definitely enjoy reading Other People's Baggage, three novellas about female sleuths who solve two thefts and a murder while coping with an airport mixing up their three bags. The mix-ups are a creative theme for tying the stories together, and I loved seeing how each sleuth dealt with the problem. A very fun collection! Beth Groundwater, Author of the Claire Hanover Gift Basket Designer and RM Outdoor Adventures Mystery Series
What do you get when you mix Doris Day with a dash of Texas two-step, then stir in a smidgen of Edinburgh, secret chambers, and magic? A recipe for fun entitled, Other People's Baggage. Although mixed up luggage is the thread that connects this trio of globetrotting novellas, it's snappy dialogue, clever storytelling, and charming characters that are the real common denominators. Writing in tandem with other authors is difficult work, but Lynn, Pandian, and Vallere make the pursuit seem effortless. I'm already hooked on their three new mystery series, and I've only read the prequels! Maddy Hunter, Bestselling Author of the Passport to Peril Mystery series
Kendel Lynn's Switch Back [in Other People's Baggage] is a clever, entertaining mystery with small town flavor and Texas flair! Debra Webb, USA Today bestselling author
Margaritas and blue lump crabcakes, sun-bleached shells and briny air. Kendel Lynn captures the flavor of the South, right down to the delightfully quirky characters in this clever new mystery series. Elli Lisbon is the Stephanie Plum of the the South! Krista Davis, New York Times bestselling author of the Domestic Diva Mysteries
Lost luggage has never been this fun! With well-drawn characters, Other People's Baggage is your first class ticket to three fast-paced adventures full of mystery, murder, and magic. Elizabeth Craig, Author of the Southern Quilting Series