“Once you start reading Bones to Pick, you won’t be able to put it down. Between the four-legged farmyard shenanigans, the two men vying for Brie Hooker’s favor, the formidable task of proving her aunt’s innocence, plus the villain’s attempts to end her life, this book is a thrill-a-minute read.” – Cindy Sample, National Bestselling Author of Dying for a Donut
Living on a farm with four hundred goats and a cantankerous carnivore isn’t among vegan chef Brie Hooker’s list of lifetime ambitions. But she can’t walk away from her Aunt Eva, who needs help operating her dairy.
Once she calls her aunt’s goat farm home, grisly discoveries offer ample inducements for Brie to employ her entire vocabulary of cheese-and-meat curses. The troubles begin when the farm’s pot-bellied pig unearths the skull of Eva’s husband, who disappeared years back. The sheriff, kin to the deceased, sets out to pin the murder on Eva. He doesn’t reckon on Brie’s resolve to prove her aunt’s innocence. Death threats, ruinous pedicures, psychic shenanigans, and biker bar fisticuffs won’t stop Brie from unmasking the killer, even when romantic befuddlement throws her a curve.
“Bones to Pick grabbed me at chapter one and refused to let go until the very last page. I want to spend more time hanging out with Brie Hooker and all her quirky family and friends. Linda Lovely offers up a charming setting that’s so real you can almost smell the hay, a story that’s laugh-out-loud funny, and a mystery that will keep you up past your bedtime.” – Annette Dashofy, USA Today Bestselling Author of Uneasy Prey
“How vegan Brie Hooker balances cheese loving carnivores, more than one romantic interest, and murder in Linda Lovely’s Bones to Pick is a humorous delight. A well-crafted series debut.” — Debra H. Goldstein, IPPY Award-Winning Author of Maze in Blue
“Linda Lovely’s newest mystery series is packed with suspense and action and some spicy romance. Its excitement wasn’t the only thing that kept me flipping pages. The characters are funny and sweet and I look forward to getting to know them better in future books. I ate up every morsel.” — Dorothy St. James, Author of the Southern Chocolate Shop Mysteries
“An entertaining mystery with a cast of colorful characters, a delightful Southern setting, and plenty of action. Spend time with Linda Lovely’s Brie Hooker—a gutsy, smart heroine with a sharp eye and refreshing sense of humor—and you’ll want to return to Ardon County and the Udderly Kidding goat farm again and again." – Wendy Tyson, Author of A Muddied Murder
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.
Books in the Brie Hooker Mystery Series:
BONES TO PICK (#1)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all.
Linda Lovely finds writing pure fiction isn’t a huge stretch given the years she’s spent penning PR and ad copy. Linda writes a blend of mystery and humor, chuckling as she plots to “disappear” the types of characters who most annoy her. Quite satisfying, plus there’s no need to pester relatives for bail. Her newest series offers good-natured salutes to both her vegan family doctor and her cheese-addicted kin. She’s an enthusiastic Sisters in Crime member and helps organize the popular Writers’ Police Academy. When not writing or reading, Linda takes long walks with her husband, swims, gardens, and plays tennis.
Read an Excerpt
Hello, I'm Brie, and I'm a vegan.
It sounds like I'm introducing myself at a Vegetarians Anonymous meeting. But, trust me, there aren't enough vegetarians in Ardon County, South Carolina, to make a circle much less hold a meeting.
Give yourself ten points if you already know vegans are even pickier than vegetarians. We forgo meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. But we're big on cashews, walnuts, and almonds. All nuts are good nuts. Appropriate with my family.
Family. That's why I put my career as a vegan chef on hold to live and work in Ardon, a strong contender for the South's carnivore-and-grease capital. My current job? I help tend four hundred goats, make verboten cheese, and gather eggs I'll never poach. Most mornings when Aunt Eva rousts me before the roosters, I roll my eyes and mutter.
Still, I can't complain. I had a choice. Sort of.
Blame it on the pig — Tammy the Pig — for sticking her snout in our family business.
I'd consorted with vegans and vegetarians for too long. I seriously underestimated how much cholesterol meat eaters could snarf down at a good old-fashioned wake. Actually, I wasn't sure this wake was "old fashioned," but it was exactly how Aunt Lilly would have planned her own send-off — if she'd had the chance. Ten days ago, the feisty sixty-two-year-old had a toddler's curiosity and a twenty-year-old's appetite for adventure. Her death was a total shock.
I glanced at Aunt Lilly's epitaph hanging behind the picnic buffet. She'd penned it years back. Her twin, Aunt Eva, found it in Lilly's desk and reprinted it in eighty-point type.
"There once was a farmer named Lilly Who never liked anything frilly,
She tended her goats,
Sowed a few wild oats,
And said grieving her death would be silly."
In a nod to Lilly's spirit, Aunt Eva planned today's wake complete with fiddling, hooch, goo-gogs of goat cheese, and the whole panoply of Southern fixins — mounds of country ham, fried chicken, barbecue, and mac-and-cheese awash in butter. Every veggie dish came dressed with bacon crumbles, drippings, or cream of mushroom soup.
Not a morsel fit for a vegan. Eva's revenge. I'd made the mistake of saying I didn't want to lose her, too, and hinted she'd live longer if she cut back on cholesterol. Not my smartest move. The name of her farm? Udderly Kidding Dairy. Cheese and eggs had been Eva's meal ticket for decades.
My innocent observation launched a war. Whenever I opened the refrigerator, I'd find a new message. This morning a Post-it on my dish of blueberries advised: The choline in eggs may enhance brain development and memory — as a vegan you probably forgot.
Smoke from the barbeque pit permeated the air as I replenished another platter of shredded pork on the buffet. My mouth watered and I teetered on the verge of drooling. While I was a dedicated vegan, my olfactory senses were still programmed "Genus Carnivorous." My stomach growled — loudly. Time to thwart its betrayal with the veggies and hummus dip I'd stashed in self-defense.
I'd just stuck a juicy carrot in my mouth when a large hand squeezed my shoulder.
"Brie, honey, you've been working nonstop," Dad said. "Take a break. Mom's on her way. We can play caterers. The food's prepared. No risks associated with our cooking."
I choked on my carrot and sputtered. "Good thing. Do you even remember the last time Mom turned on an oven?"
Dad smiled. "Can't recall. Maybe when you were a baby? But, hey, we're wizards at takeout and microwaves."
His smile faltered. I caught him staring at Aunt Lilly's epitaph.
"Still can't believe Lilly's gone." He attempted a smile. "Knowing her sense of humor, we're lucky she didn't open that epitaph with 'There once was a lass from Nantucket.'"
I'd never seen Dad so sad. Lilly's unexpected death stunned him to his core. He adored his older sisters.
Mom appeared at his side and wrapped an arm around his waist. She loved her sisters-in-law, too, though she complained my childless aunts spoiled me beyond repair.
Of course, Lilly's passing hit Eva the hardest. A fresh boatload of tears threatened as I thought about the aunt left behind. I figured my tear reservoir had dried up after days of crying. Wrong. The tragedy — a texting teenager smashing head-on into Lilly's car — provoked a weeklong family weep-a-thon. It ended when Eva ordered us to cease and desist.
"This isn't what Lilly would want," she declared. "We're gonna throw a wake. One big, honking party."
Which explained the fifty-plus crowd of friends and neighbors milling about the farm, tapping their feet to fiddlin', and consuming enough calories to sustain the populace of a small principality for a week.
I hugged Dad. "Thanks. I could use a break. I'll find Eva. See how she's doing." I spotted her near a flower garden filled with cheery jonquils. It looked like a spring painting. Unfortunately, the cold March wind that billowed Eva's scarlet poncho argued the blooms were false advertising. The weatherman predicted the thermometer would struggle to reach the mid-forties today.
My aunt's build was what I'd call sturdy, yet Eva seemed to sway in the gusty breeze as she chatted with Billy Jackson, the good ol' boy farrier who shod her mule. Though my parents pretended otherwise, we all knew Billy slept under Eva's crazy quilt at least two nights a week.
I nodded at the couple. Well, actually, the foursome. Brenda, the farm's spoiled pet goat, and Kai, Udderly's lead Border collie, were competing with Billy for my aunt's attention.
"Mom and Dad are watching the buffet," I said. "Thought I'd see if you need me to do anything. Are you expecting more folks?"
"No." Eva reached down and tickled the tiny black goat's shaggy head. "Imagine everyone who's coming is here by now. They'll start clearing out soon. Chow down and run. Can't blame 'em. Especially the idiot women who thought they ought to wear dresses. That biting wind's gotta be whistling up their drawers."
Billy grinned as he looked Eva up and down. Her choice of wake attire — poncho, black pants, and work boots — surprised no one, and would have delighted Lilly.
"Do you even own a dress?" Billy laughed.
"You're one to talk." Eva gave his baggy plaid suit and clip-on bowtie the stink eye. "I suppose you claim that gristle on your chin is needed to steady your fiddle."
He kissed Eva's cheek. "Yep, that's it. Time to rejoin my fellow fiddlers, but first I have a hankering to take a turn at the Magic Moonshine tent."
"You do that. Maybe the 'shine will improve your playing. It'll definitely make you sound better to your listening audience. After enough of that corn liquor even my singing could win applause."
A dark-haired stranger usurped Billy's place, bending low to plant a kiss on the white curls that sprang from my aunt's head like wood shavings. Wow. They stacked handsome tall when they built him. Had to be at least six-four.
Even minus an introduction, I figured this tall glass of sweet tea had to be Paint, the legendary owner of Magic Moonshine. Sunlight glinted off hair the blue-black of expensive velvet. Deep dimples. Rakish smile.
I'd spent days sobbing, and my libido apparently was saying "enough" — time to rejoin the living. If this bad boy were any more alive, he'd be required to wear a "Danger High Voltage" sign. Of course, Aunt Lilly wouldn't mind. She'd probably rent us a room.
I ventured a glance and found him smiling at me. My boots were suddenly fascinating. Never stare at shiny objects with the potential to hypnotize. I refused to fall under another playboy's spell.
"How's my best gal?" he asked, hugging Eva.
"Best for this minute, right?" my aunt challenged. "I bet my niece will be your best gal before I finish the introductions." Eva put a hand on my shoulder. "Paint, this young whippersnapper is Brie Hooker, my favorite niece. 'Course, she's my only niece. Brie, it's with great trepidation that I introduce you to David Paynter, better known as Paint, unrepentant moonshiner and heartbreaker."
Eva subjected Paint to her pretend badass stare, a sure sign he was one of her favorite sparring partners. "Don't you go messing with Brie, or I'll bury you down yonder with Mark, once I nail his hide."
Paint laughed, a deep, rumbling chuckle. He turned toward me and bowed like Rhett Butler reincarnated.
"Pleased to meet you, Brie. That puzzled look tells me you haven't met Mark, the wily coyote that harasses Eva's goats. She's wasted at least six boxes of buckshot trying to scare him off. Me? I'll gladly risk her shotgun to make your acquaintance. I've heard a lot about you."
Eva gave Paint a shove. "Well, if that's the case, go on. Give Brie a shot of your peach moonshine. It's pretty good."
"Peach moonshine it is," he said and took my arm.
A second later, he tightened his grip and pulled me to the right. "Better watch your step. You almost messed up those pretty boots."
He pointed at a fresh pile of fragrant poop, steaming in the brisk air inches from my suede boots.
"Thanks," I mumbled.
Still holding my arm, he steered me over uneven ground to a clear path. "Eva says you're staying with her. Hope you don't have to leave for a while. Your aunt's a fine lady, and it's going to be mighty hard on her once this flock of well-wishers flies off."
His baritone sent vibrations rippling through my body. My brain ordered me to ignore the tingling that remained in places it didn't belong.
He smiled. "Eva and Lilly spoke about you so often I feel like we're already friends. 'Course head-shaking accompanied some of their comments. They said you'd need to serve plenty of my moonshine if you ever opened a vegan B&B in Ardon County. Here abouts it's considered unpatriotic to serve eats that haven't been baptized in a vat of lard. Vegetables are optional; meat, mandatory."
Uh, oh. I always gave relatives and friends a free pass on good-natured kidding. But a stranger? This man was poking fun at my profession, yet my hackles — smoothed by the hunk's lopsided grin — managed only a faint bristle.
Back away. Pronto. Discovering my ex-fiancé, Jack, was boffing not one, but two coworkers the entire two years we were engaged made me highly allergic to lady-killers. Paint was most definitely a member of that tribe.
"What can I say? I'm a rebel," I replied. "It's my life's ambition to convince finger-lickin', fried-chicken lovers that life without meat, butter, eggs, and cheese does not involve a descent into the nine circles of hell."
Paint released me, then raised his hand to brush a wayward curl from my forehead. His flirting seemed to be congenital.
"If you're as feisty as your aunt claims, why don't you take me on as a challenge? I do eat tomatoes — fried green ones, anyway — and I'm open to sampling other members of the vegetable kingdom. So long as they don't get between me and my meat. Anyway, welcome to the Carolina foothills. Time to pour some white lightning. It's smoother than you might expect." And so are you. Too smooth for me.
That's when we heard the screams.CHAPTER 2
Paint zoomed off like a Clemson running back, hurtling toward the screams — human, not goat. I managed to stay within a few yards of him, slipping and sliding as my suede boots unwittingly smooshed a doggie deposit. Udderly's guardian dogs, five Great Pyrenees, were large enough to saddle, and their poop piles rivaled cow paddies.
As I neared the barn, I slipped on wet straw. To slow my slide, I grabbed for the branch of a bush. I missed. My palm collided with weathered barn siding.
Ouch. Harpooned by a jagged splinter. Blood oozed from the sensitive pad below my right thumb. I stared at the inch-plus spear. Paint had kept running. He was no longer in sight.
The screams stopped. An accident? A heart attack?
I hustled around the corner of the barn. A little girl sobbed in the cleared area behind Udderly's retail sales cabin. I recognized Jenny, a rambunctious five-year-old from a nearby farm. Her mother knelt beside her, stroking her hair.
No child had produced the operatic screams we'd heard. Maybe Jenny's mother was the screamer. But the farm wife didn't seem the hysterical type. On prior visits to Udderly, I'd stopped at the roadside stand where she sold her family's produce. Right now the woman's face looked redder than one of her Early Girl tomatoes. Was the flush brought on by some danger — a goat butting her daughter, a snake slithering near the little girl?
I walked closer. Then I saw it.
A skull poked through the red clay. Soil had tinted the bone an absurd pink.
The sizeable cranium looked human. I spotted the grave digger, or should I say re-digger. Udderly's newest addition, a Vietnamese potbellied pig named Tammy, hunkered in a nearby puddle. Tiny cloven hoof marks led to and from the excavation. Tell-tale red mud dappled her dainty twitching snout. The pig's hundred-pound body quivered as her porcine gaze roved the audience she'd attracted.
A man squatted beside Tammy, speaking to the swine in soothing, almost musical tones. Pigs were dang smart and sensitive. Aunt Eva told me it was easy to hurt their feelings. The fellow stroking Tammy's grimy head must've been convinced she was one sensitive swine.
"It's okay," he repeated. "The lady wasn't screaming at you, Tammy."
Tammy snorted, lowered her head, and squeezed her eyes shut. The pig-whisperer gave the swine a final scratch and stood, freeing gangly limbs from his pretzel-like crouch. Mud caked the cuffs and knees of his khaki pants. Didn't seem to bother him one iota.
The mother shepherded her little girl away from the disturbing scene, and Paint knelt to examine the skeletal remains. "Looks like piggy uncovered more than she bargained for." He glanced at Muddy Cuffs. "Andy, you're a vet. Animal or human?"
"Human." Andy didn't hesitate. "But all that's left is bone. Had to have been buried a good while. Yet Tammy's rooting scratched only inches below the surface. If a settler dug this grave, it was mighty shallow."
"Probably didn't start that way." I pointed to a depression that began uphill near the retail cabin. "This wash has deepened a lot since my aunts built their store and the excavation diverted water away from the cabin. The runoff's been nibbling away at the ground."
Mom, Dad, and Aunt Eva joined the group eyeballing the skull. Eva looked peaked, almost ill. I felt a slight panic at the shift in her normally jolly appearance. I thought of my aunts as forces of nature. Unflappable. Indestructible. I'd lost one, and the other suddenly looked fragile. Finding a corpse on her property the same day she bid her twin goodbye had hit her hard.
Dad cocked his head. "Could be a Cherokee burial site. Or maybe a previous farmer buried a loved one and the grave marker got lost. Homestead burials have always been legal in South Carolina. Still are."
For once, the idea of finding a corpse in an unexpected location didn't prompt a gleeful chuckle from my dad, Dr. Howard Hooker. Though he was a professor of horticulture at Clemson University by day, he was an aspiring murder mystery author by night. Every time we went for a car ride, Dad made a game of searching the landscape for spots "just perfect" for disposing of bodies. So far, a dense patch of kudzu in a deep ravine topped his picks. "Kudzu grows so fast any flesh peeking through would disappear in a day."
Good thing Dad confined his commentary to family outings. We knew the corpses in question weren't real.
Mom whipped out her smartphone. "I'll call Judge Glenn. It's Sunday, but he always answers his cell. He'll know who to call. I'm assuming the Ardon County Sheriff's Department."
Dad nodded. "Probably, but I bet SLED — the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division — will take over. The locals don't have forensic specialists."
Mom rolled her eyes. "You spend way too much time with your Sisters in Crime." It amused Mom that Dad's enthusiasm for his literary genre earned him the presidency of the Upstate South Carolina Chapter of Sisters in Crime.
Mom didn't fool with fictional crime. Too busy with the real thing. As the City of Clemson's attorney, she kept a bevy of lawyers, judges, and city and university cops on speed dial. However, Udderly Kidding wasn't in the same county as Clemson so it sat outside her domain.
"Judge Glenn, this is Iris Hooker. I'm at the Udderly Kidding Dairy in Ardon. An animal here unearthed a skull. We think it's human, but not recent. Should we call the sheriff?"
Mom nodded and made occasional I-get-it noises while she clamped the cell to her ear.
"Could you ask them to keep their arrival quiet? Better yet, could they wait until after four? About fifty folks are here for my sister-in-law's wake. I don't want to turn her farewell into a circus."
A minute later, Mom murmured her thanks and pocketed her cell. "The judge agreed an old skull doesn't warrant sirens or flashing lights. He'll ask the Ardon County Sheriff, Robbie Jones, to come by after four. Since I'm an officer of the court, his honor just requested that I keep people and animals clear of the area until the sheriff arrives."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bones to Pick"
Copyright © 2017 Linda Lovely.
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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