Sarah Booth Delaney’s fiancé, Graf Milieu, has become depressed while recovering from a severe leg injury, but Sarah Booth knows just how to help him heal. She’s arranged a romantic getaway for the two of them at a lovely beach cottage on Dauphin Island off the Gulf Coast. On the first day of their island adventure, they take a historical tour led by Angela Trotter, a young woman well-versed in local lore, including rumors of pirate treasure hidden somewhere on the island. In fact, Angela confides to Sarah Booth and Graf that her father, a sailor and treasure hunter, was murdered just when he thought he was closing in on the treasure. Angela's convinced that the wrong man was imprisoned for her father’s murder, and she manages to persuade Sarah Booth to take the case. And Sarah Booth soon realizes that there's much more going on than meets the eye. With untold amounts of treasure offering plenty of motive for murder and a fiancé falling deeper into depression, Sarah Booth's peaceful island vacation is quickly spinning out of control.
In Booty Bones, Carolyn Haines will once again delight readers with her trademark blend of clever plotting, witty prose, and Southern charm.
About the Author
CAROLYN HAINES is the author of the Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries. She is the recipient of both the Harper Lee Distinguished Writing Award and the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence. Born and raised in Mississippi, she now lives in Semmes, Alabama on a farm with more dogs, cats and horses than she can possibly keep track of.
Read an Excerpt
By Carolyn Haines
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Carolyn Haines
All rights reserved.
The setting sun casts gold upon the white beach, and the azure curl of surf takes on a lavender cast as it rushes the shore and spreads a mantle of foam. The waves crest inches from my bare feet, a rhythmic tidal pull that comforts me, promising that life continues. The end of an October day is nothing less than stunning on the small barrier island named for French royalty: Dauphin Island, Alabama.
Graf Milieu, my fiancé, is in the beach cottage I've rented for a week. My hope is that Graf will find walking in the sand good therapy for his gun-shot leg and the island's beauty healing to his injured spirit. Graf's wounds go much deeper than a shattered bone, and they are my fault. He was abducted, shot, and held prisoner without medical care because my private investigative work spilled over into his life.
But that is the past and cannot be changed, no matter how hard I wish it. What I'm planning with this Gulf Coast getaway is to protect the future.
Sweetie Pie, my loyal hound, roots her nose into the back of my armpit, letting me know she sympathizes with my worry. My dog and Pluto, the black cat who lives with us at Dahlia House, my ancestral Mississippi Delta home, are here with me at the beach to aid in Graf's recuperation. I need all the help I can get.
The wind is chilly off the water, and my butt is damp from sitting in the sand. Pluto struggles toward me, his dainty little paws sinking with each step. With a kitty sigh, he plops into my lap. He has only contempt for the surf and for anyone who admires water — even the dazzling aqua waves of the Gulf of Mexico. Water is necessary for fish, and that's as far as Pluto is willing to go.
"Where's Graf?" I ask the critters, hoping he is not far behind them.
They both look back toward the beach cottage. Sweetie's long, delicate ears droop more than usual. The critters are worried about Graf, too. He's been in a terrible state since he was shot. The surgery to repair the bone was successful, but the recovery has been painful. The doctors saved his leg, but there is a chance he will always limp. Graf is an actor with a good chance of becoming a movie star. Physical disabilities don't fit into that equation. He's fighting hard against the anger, fear, and depression that are normal emotions accompanying such an injury.
And have I mentioned this is all my fault?
The wind whips off the water and sends a salty spray into my face, and for a moment I remember this same beach some twenty-five years earlier, when I vacationed here with my parents. The beach cottages were much plainer, less luxurious, and no oil-drilling rigs dotted the horizon. The sand was pristine then and hadn't suffered the thousands of gallons of oil from BP's Deep Water Horizon well that blew and polluted the Gulf. My parents were alive, and I was safe, expecting only the best of a bright future. Life has certainly taken me down a peg or six.
Sweetie's cold nose against my armpit brings me back from those carefree childhood days. The sun has dropped below the horizon, and the skyline to the east is swiftly changing from peacock-blue to indigo. Time to gird my loins and do battle against Graf's worries. I shall bring joy back to his life. I shall do it with my bare intention and will.
I stand up suddenly, just in time to catch the image of a woman clad in widow's weeds on the other side of the sand dune. She is there one moment and gone the next. Sweetie sees her, too, as does Pluto, who puts on his Halloween arch. Like most felines, Pluto disdains unexpected company.
"Who was that?" I asked, even as I loped over the sand in pursuit of the strange figure.
When I rounded the dune, the light was fleeing the sky, but I could make out the feminine silhouette. Her antebellum dress grazed the sand and belled out behind her as the Gulf wind struck the skirt. A black veil floated like the banner of a dark empire. What the hell was going on?
Sweetie passed me and gave chase, but she wasn't baying like she would if she was on a scent. Pluto, too, for all of his heft and waddling belly, outdistanced me. The phantom floated across the deep sand while I floundered.
"You! Wait up!" I called. No one — not dog, cat, or woman — slowed his pace. I notched it up to a full-fledged run. "Hey! Stop, dammit!"
The stranger slowed and confronted me. Her gown and veil popped in the gusting air, and I was reminded of Deborah Kerr in the The Innocents, the film adaptation of "The Turn of the Screw." Brilliant and terrifying.
The figure seemed to wait for me, and I thought of death. I'd always expected the Grim Reaper to be male, but this black-clad raven of gloom persuaded me otherwise.
"What do you want?" I slowed to a stop in the deep sand two dozen yards from her. She was slender with perfect posture, but her features were obscured by the mourning attire.
She said nothing.
Sweetie and Pluto were frozen in place only a few feet in front of me. They made not a sound.
If this was death come to lurk around the shadows of my life, she would not find hospitality. "You've taken too much from me. Get away from here. You have no business with me or the people and animals I love. Be gone!"
"I've lost, too," she said. "More than anyone should."
In the softness of her voice and the plaintive tone, I realized this was no threat, but someone who knew suffering. "What are you?"
"A widow from the distant past?" Judging from the dress style, I'd estimate the mid-1800s. It took me a moment, but then I knew. "Jitty?"
She lifted the veil, and I saw sorrow etched in her mocha skin.
"Funeral crepe? That's the best you could do for a beach costume? No polka-dot bikini? No tawdry flip-flops and big hat? Miss Fashion Plate, where is your style?" I vacillated between relief and annoyance. "You scared the life out of me."
"I'm a haint. That's what haints do — we frighten people."
"But you're my haint, and upsetting me is not allowed. You live by the rules of the Great Beyond, but I live by Delaney rules, and I just wrote that one."
Her chuckle seemed to hold the fading sunlight for a moment longer.
"Why are you here, Jitty, dressed like a mourner from the eighteen hundreds?" My momentary humor was gone, and worry returned.
"Life is a cycle, Sarah Booth. You know this."
"I do. I don't like it, but I know it. I'm in the summer of life, and so is Graf. There's no cycle crap happening here that needs widow's weeds."
"Perhaps not." She made no promises. It was against the rules of the Great Beyond for her to tell me anything about the future. "But remember the wheel of life turns again and again."
"If you're warning me Graf is in some new danger, just spit it out."
"The French call orgasm 'the little death.'" Her smile was luminous. And still sad. "At the peak of joy is always the descent into death."
Too bad there was only sand around. Had there been rocks, I would have picked one up and thrown it at her. "Say it plain."
She shook her head. "So much history has happened on this island beach. The French settled here and named it Massacre Island because their first discovery was a mound created from human bones. It was a Native American burial site." She looked out toward the water, and the last lingering bits of peachy light played across her face. "Not a bad place to meet an end."
"And not a good place either. Who are you mourning here? Coker died in the war, not on a barrier island."
"Very true. My husband died on a blood-soaked battlefield with Alice's husband, your great-great-great-grandfather. But there's history here on Dauphin Island, Sarah Booth. Important history. I suspect you'll find out soon enough."
She flickered in and out, as was her wont when she was ready to take a powder.
"Jitty, will Graf be okay?"
But there was only the sound of the surf and the wind whipping my shirt like a tattered flag. Sweetie, Pluto, and I turned toward the three-story cottage. A light bloomed in an upstairs window, a smudge of cheer against the star-spangled night.
It was time to make dinner for Graf. I had a plan to enliven his spirits. A secret plan. And it would work, because I had no other alternative.
* * *
I took the stairs to the second floor. All of the beach cottages were built on pilings, a precaution against a tidal surge, but it also gave us a primo view of the Gulf. I found Graf on the balcony, leaning on the railing and staring out at the wind-whipped water.
I poured glasses of red wine and took them outside. I handed him a glass and then snaked my arm around his waist. He'd lost weight, and he didn't need to.
"Thank you, Sarah Booth. You've been a perfect Florence Nightingale."
"Florence Nightingale died a single woman. Not going to be my fate, Graf Milieu. Just giving you a heads-up."
The long drive and then the lengthy walk on the beach had tired him. I traced the lines in his face with gentle fingertips as he spoke. "Once I'm healed, I promise, I'll make an honest woman of you." He drew me close and kissed me with lingering tenderness. "I'm getting stronger each day. Walking on the beach and climbing the stairs at the cottage — exactly what the doctor ordered. Thank you for convincing me to come here."
"I am your Gale Storm with full attention to social and recreational activities, and never forget it." I tiptoed and kissed his chin. "I've booked a tour of the old fort for tomorrow. This place has a fascinating history. Native Americans, French, Spanish, British, Confederacy, and United States. This area has been ruled by a number of different nations."
"You take the fort tour and I'll work out on the beach." Graf sipped his wine and gazed at the crashing surf. The wind ruffled his dark hair. He needed a haircut and a shave. He'd come so close to dying, and he'd fought so bravely to regain the use of his leg. Sometimes, though, depression snuck up on him. Doc Sawyer had warned me to be on the lookout and to keep him distracted.
"Aarrgh! Disobey me and ye'll walk the gangplank!" I used my finger to poke him in the ribs like a sword.
"Am I going to have to endure pirate parodies for the whole week?" he said teasingly.
"Maybe. I discovered the Gulf waters were swarming with pirates and buccaneers. And the fort here, Fort Gaines, played a vital role in the War Between the States. Also in the two world wars."
"I never realized you were such a history buff, Sarah Booth. I always viewed you as a girl of the moment. All flash and dazzle and heat. Some very interesting heat."
My heart surged with hope. Since the gunshot, Graf had avoided intimacy. I'd seen him staring at the nasty wound on his leg and now the glaring scar. He was no longer physical perfection. I didn't care, but he did. I had to play this cool. "Wars don't interest me a lot. But pirates — now that's another story. I love pirate tales. Especially stories involving treasures."
"Shiver me timbers." Graf swept me backward, bending me over his arm as he held me and rasped his beard along my cheek and neck.
I tried to push him away, but he was too strong. "What does that even mean? You've been watching bad pirate movies. Next thing I know, you'll have an eye patch."
"And maybe a parrot." He drew me to my feet with ease. "Actually, I know a little about sailing. The phrase comes from the ship pounding up and down in rough seas or battle. The concussion would rattle the mast, which was made of wood."
"I may have to reconsider my engagement." I held out my left hand with the beautiful diamond. "I'm not sure I want to marry a know-it-all."
"No danger of that. But I can read. Maybe you should give it a try."
I punched his arm lightly. "Oh, I brought some books for the beach. I intend to enjoy the surf and an adventure while you complete your physical therapy. I can watch and make sure you're doing it right."
Before I'd packed to come to Dauphin Island, I'd met Doc Sawyer, my friend and family doctor, at Millie's Café for a cup of coffee and a chat. I needed his professional advice on dealing with Graf's emotional and physical wounds.
"Graf has to find his way, Sarah Booth. It isn't just the shattered bone and the pain. This injury has changed how he sees himself. It's shaken loose everything he ever believed about his life and his future."
"I have to help him."
Doc took my hand and gave it a hard squeeze. "Be there. Be strong. Supportive. Caring. But don't make the mistake of pandering to him or trying to make this easier. He'll resent you, and he'll hate himself because you pity him. Don't coddle him and for God's sake don't let him act like a tyrant."
I clung to those words as I inhaled the salty air and gripped the railing of the balcony. "I brought some cards. Care for a few hands of poker?"
"In a little while. I'm happy here, listening to the surf. To be honest, I'm tired. I never thought learning to walk could be so exhausting. How do babies do it?"
"They don't know any better," I said, kissing him. "I'll put the salad together. We can eat when you're ready. No rush." I picked up his empty glass and left him in the night and wind.
I turned slowly, trying to disguise the hope I felt. Would he suggest an appetizer before dinner? "Yes?"
"I love the way you help me. You don't have to, though. I don't blame you for what happened."
"I blame me."
"Stop it." He spoke gently. "I'm healing, and you have to do the same. If you continue to blame yourself, this will always be between us. No one could have predicted what Gertrude would do. It wasn't your fault."
"Right now, let's focus on getting you back one hundred percent. After that, I'll work on my guilt issues."
"It's a deal." He blew me a kiss. "Just remember, I love you."
I took that tiny grain of joy and savored it as I went to the kitchen and threw together a curried shrimp salad, one of his favorites.
* * *
Sunday dawned with a mantle of lavender and gold. October was closing out, and the beach — normally filled with tourists and surf lovers — was empty in the chill morning. Graf had fallen asleep on the sofa, and I had left him there. It hurt me that he hadn't come to share my bed, but Cece had given me a primer on the subject.
Cece Dee Falcon, my friend, knew more about body image than most psychologists. She'd once been Cecil. Only her strong will and intense self-knowledge had given her the strength to fight family and often her community in a quest to become the person she was meant to be.
"Graf feels diminished," Cece had warned me. "Don't push intimacy. He has to see himself as sexually desirable before he engages. Let him come to you, Sarah Booth. And don't take it personally. This isn't about you. It's all about him."
So I tiptoed past him with Sweetie and Pluto following, and we went out on the sand so I could smoke a cigarette. I didn't do it often — had in fact fought and beaten the demon tobacco for years. Now I was cutting myself a little slack. Graf and I would both recover our strength and put this behind us, including the smokes.
A child's laughter caught Sweetie's attention, and she bounded over the sand dunes and disappeared. She was a gentle dog, but I didn't want her size to intimidate a kid. I stood up and followed with a disgruntled Pluto at my side. The cat was not a fan of early mornings either. The tang of salt in the air only made it worse for the water- disdaining feline.
I stopped on top of the dune. Down the beach, Sweetie Pie ran circles around a child with flowing brown curls that hung to her waist. She looked to be eight or nine. When Sweetie paused, the child spun cartwheels in the sand. She was too far away for a clear view, but her delight in the beach and water was obvious.
I'd been happy at her age. Endless laughter and adventure. The joy of sun and sand and movement. Shading my eyes with my hand, I searched for an adult. The surf could be dangerous, and the girl was far too young to be outside alone.
A slender woman with long blondish curls waved a scarf, and the child skipped to her and took her hands for a swing. Mother and daughter, I thought. They knelt side by side and lavished affection on Sweetie. One day Graf and I would have a child that beautiful. Two. A girl and a boy. Or two girls. Or two boys. It really didn't matter, as long as they were healthy.
Excerpted from Booty Bones by Carolyn Haines. Copyright © 2014 Carolyn Haines. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
My parents, my sister and I love this series. Love it and the new twists as well. She keeps them interesting and they do not get old on the story lines. All of us can't wait for next one!
The best Sarah Booth Delaney book yet!!! Carolyn you out did yourself this time. Brought out all the emotions, suspense and anticipation. You have left me hanging, wondering what is going to happen next. Please write fast, I can't stand the wait for the next book!
Great story but pretty quick ending. You should do one more part adding a little more detail.Great story though!
I never get tired of reading this series
Awesome and stress filled! This adventure may be the best Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery ever. When Sarah Booth takes her fiance to coastal island to recuperate from an injury she plans to devote her time to helping him in his recover. As always things don't turn out quite as she expects, but also like always, the twists are unpredictable. When a woman approaches her to ask Sarah to investigate her fathers murder, the private investigator refuses until she discovers that a man may be serving time unjustly. Her heritage and her personal code call to her. Her fiance is glad for her to have something to while he works to get his head past recent changes. Sarah realizes that he isn't sure if he will fully recuperate and that could change his future. That is a lot to think about. I won a copy of this book from the author at a Facebook party and was thrilled! I love this series!
Far from my favorite. Usually there is a bit of humor in Sarah Booth Delaney mystery, not this time. The melodrama of her relationship with Graf was a real downer. Couldn't hold my interest very long. It became a bed time story.
Always looking forward to the next installment in the Sarah Booth Delaney series, I purchased this book. While I enjoyed the story line, I grew weary of reading the improbable heroics of Sweetie Pie and Pluto. Ridiculous distractions from what could have been an interesting read. For the next book, how about focusing on the human protagonists and leaving the dogs and cats to doing what dogs and cats really do?
I have read all Carolyn Haines "Bones" books and have enjoyed them all, including "Booty Bones"
I have been a huge fan of Sarah Booth for a few years now and I feel like she's a close friend. I laugh when she's being sarcastic, I sigh when she's being difficult and I cry when she takes her walks down memory lane. This book was different then the others and I enjoyed the change in pace. Jitty is one of my favorite characters and I loved learning a bit more about her. I cried for Sarah Booth multiple times and am still wiping away tears that fell during my reading. I highly recommend this book and this series to those that love a good cozy mystery.
2.5 stars. Not one of the better books in the series. To be honest the last couple of books have been flat & dull.