First in a delicious new mystery series about Eva Knox and her family’s Georgia olive plantation.
In the sweet Southern town of Abundance, Georgia, home of the Knox family’s olive farm, gossip isn’t the only thing that can kill you...
After leaving a man at the altar for the second time in her life, Eva Knox decides to head home to her family’s plantation to regroup and soak in some Southern charm. But hiding from her woes is a slipperier proposition than Eva imagined. For one thing, most people in town still haven’t forgiven her for leaving local boy Buck Tanner at the altar and hightailing it up north eighteen years ago. For another, a death on her family’s farm soon makes her the lead suspect in a murder case—and the sheriff investigating is none other than Eva’s old flame Buck.
With the police putting the squeeze on her, it’s up to Eva and her sisters, Pep and Daphne, to figure out who could have possibly left a dead body in their olive grove. And they’ll have to catch the greasy killer quickly—because it looks like Eva has been picked as the murderer’s next victim...
About the Author
Kelly Lane lives near Charlottesville, Virginia, and has worked as a writer, editor, and public relations professional. An active member of Sisters in Crime, she participates in professional writing groups and workshops. Kelly enjoys a Southern, agrarian lifestyle that includes preparing locally grown and artisanal foods for family and friends. At any given time, Kelly's pantry boasts more than a dozen kinds of olive oil, including delicious Georgia varieties. She'd be hard-pressed not to share with you a mouthwatering dish made with her favorite olive oils.
Read an Excerpt
Okay, I admit it. I was curious. I’d lagged a bit, stepping past the beauty shop doorway. Maybe I’d wanted to check out Tammy Fae Tanner. See who her clients were. Hear for myself what they were saying about me.
Shear Southern Beauty was the only salon in Abundance County, Georgia. It was the place where every woman in town had her hair and nails done. The place where each woman sitting in shop owner Tammy Fae’s swiveling chair received an earful of her up-to-the-minute, down-home Southern dirt. And since my return home from New England a week earlier, I’d heard that all the pernicious drivel had been about me. So, naturally, I thought I’d check it out.
I’d gotten an earful.
Of course, Tammy Fae’s animosity wasn’t completely out of the blue. She happened to be the mother of Buck Tanner, the man whom I scandalously left standing at the altar, right before I ran out of town eighteen years earlier.
And I’d never returned.
That is, until another wedding-day blowout sent me packing from Boston.
Anyway, most folks weren’t out and about on that steamy August afternoon in Southern Georgia. Like my dad always said, summertime in town was hotter than blue blazes. Only tourists, mostly Northerners on vacation, fanning themselves with their “Welcome to Abundance” pamphlets from the Information Booth, ambled under the tropical palmettos, past the Victorian buildings and quaint Main Street shops that showcased hand-painted signs, charming window displays, and perfectly potted plants along the brick sidewalk.
After delivering my dad’s fresh olive oil to the Palatable Pecan restaurant, I picked up my dry cleaning and hustled a couple of doors down to Hot Pressed Tees, where, a few days earlier, I’d ordered some custom-printed shirts to promote my family’s new olive oil business. Each shirt read GEORGIA VIRGIN across the chest, with OLIVE OIL in smaller letters above an illustration of an olive branch imposed over the state of Georgia.
“These look great, Tommy!” I said to shop owner Tommy Burnside. I threw my purse strap over my shoulder. “Hopefully, we’ll sell out in no time.” I fitted the lid over the thin cardboard box of tees on the counter before loading up two more boxes of shirts in my arms. I tossed my plastic-bagged dry cleaning on top.
“Y’all have a real nice day, now,” said Tommy as he held open the door for me.
Stepping into the summer sultriness, I weaved in and out of tourists on the sidewalk as they rubbernecked and took selfies in the picture-perfect village. Then, I spied the open door at Shear Southern Beauty ahead.
I couldn’t resist.
Slowing to a stroll and peeping around my armload of bagged clothes and boxed shirts, I stared into the bay window with the giant purple shears painted on the glass. Standing in the middle of her shop, fifty-something Tammy Fae Tanner hadn’t changed much since the last time I’d seen her. That’d been at the wedding rehearsal party she’d hosted for her engaged son and me—the night before I’d run out of town eighteen years earlier.
Petite, with brown cocker spaniel eyes, a turned-up nose, and perfectly curled, shoulder-length, whiskey-colored hair, the former Miss Abundance and presiding president of the Abundance Ladies Club wore a purple apron and held a big cup, slathered full of hair color. She stood behind a tall, slender woman who sat covered in a smock with purple flowers patterned over it. With her hair all spiky in foils, the woman looked like a metallic hedgehog. As I neared the propped-open shop door, I could hear their drawly voices tittering away inside.
“Sweet-talkin’ thing’ll never land a fella,” said Tammy Fae, slapping a blob of bleach on a spike of the hedgehog’s hair. “Not the way she’s carried on. Fancy that . . . runnin’ away from another weddin’—and, in front of the whole world to see!”
The hedgehog giggled. “Even after a dog’s age, she ain’t changed a bit since high school.”
“Well, y’all just can’t piss on a man’s leg and tell ’em it’s raining. No decent fella’s gonna touch her with a ten-foot pole now.”
Tammy Fae loaded up another glob of bleach and spun the hedgehog in the swiveling chair toward the door. That’s when I stopped short, recognizing the hedgehog. It was Realtor Debi Dicer. My old nemesis. Back in high school, the popular blonde, cheerleader, and student council president had looked over my shoulder and copied all my test answers in class. And she’d adored my high school sweetheart, Buck. Often, she’d followed him to Knox Plantation when he’d been visiting me.
“Y’all know, not a one of those three Knox girls can keep a man,” sniped Debi, looking down as Tammy Fae slathered more bleach on the back of her head.
“Back in my daddy’s day, women like that would’ve been locked in the attic. The whole lot of ’em are pretentious, shameless tarts,” sniffed Tammy Fae. “Just like their mama.”
As I stood transfixed in the doorway, a young man taking snapshots bumped my elbow. My plastic-covered dry cleaning slid to the sidewalk, right in front of the shop.
“Sorry, miss. May I help you with that?”
“No worries, I’ll get it!” I whispered, shooing the man away.
Kneeling to pick up my big baggie of cleaned clothes, I tried to balance the tee shirt boxes in my arms, hoping Tammy Fae and Debi hadn’t noticed me. Except, I’d unwittingly stepped on the corner of the plastic bag. I got all caught up in myself when I tried to pull the bag from the sidewalk and not drop the boxes.
“And if y’all ask me, she’s the worst of the lot,” said Tammy Fae with a snigger. “Luring a man right to the altar, then shamelessly runnin’ away. That hussy’s stuck-up higher than a light pole.”
“For sure, that Miss Eva’s got some kinda itch that needs scratchin’!” Debi chortled. “She just can’t stop herself.”
Embarrassed at their words, I felt a rush of blood flush my cheeks. Still stooped over, I hurried backward, out of the doorway. Except, the hot plastic bag was caught on my sneaker, wrapped around and sticking to my bare leg under my cutoffs. My shoulder bag swung wildly, putting me off-balance.
“Goodness knows, her man antics and fame whoring are givin’ Abundance a bad name. Folks in the ladies club are real upset about it,” Tammy Fae huffed indignantly.
“For sure, that minx has got some balls, settin’ her foot back in this town,” laughed Debi.
“She’s no better than a common criminal, comin’ back to the scene of the crime.”
“It’s just like my honey always says, ‘A leopard can’t change her spots!’”
Finally, I snatched my dry cleaning from the sidewalk. Just then, the flimsy shirt boxes tumbled out of my arms, thudding and splitting open in the doorway. I looked up. The two women stared at me.
“Bless her heart, there she is!” hissed Tammy Fae.
I scrambled to hang on to my purse and dry cleaning while seizing the torn boxes and spilled tees from the ground. Tammy Fae gave me that disdainful, if-looks-could-kill, Southern-woman stare. Debi plastered a big ol’ pompous grin on her face.
“Eva Knox!” Debi flapped her hand to wave. “Bless your little ol’ pea-pickin’ heart! Tammy Fae and I were just talkin’ about y’all. Weren’t we, Tammy Fae?”
Tammy Fae’s expression morphed from deadly stare to supercilious smirk.
“Imagine. Y’all comin’ back to town, after all these years!” Tammy Fae sneered.
“Afternoon, ladies! So lovely to see you both.”
I scrambled to stand, squashing the battered boxes, tee shirts, dry cleaning, and purse to my chest. My heart raced, and my ears burned. I’d gotten a bigger dose of Southern scuttlebutt than I’d bargained for, and I’d made a fool of myself doing it. I was embarrassed to hear the things they’d said about me, and my family. And the duo had caught me snooping, to boot!
Mortified, I backed away from the doorway, onto the sidewalk. I couldn’t escape fast enough. Hugging my disheveled armload, I racewalked past Beasley’s Butcher Shop next door, and the Lacy Goddess Lingerie Boutique after that. I remembered how years ago, Tammy Fae had told her son, Buck, that a farmer’s daughter wasn’t good enough for him. Of course, somehow, the fact that she was a farmer’s daughter hadn’t mattered. She’d told Buck that I’d break his heart, like my mother had done to Daddy. And all through high school, and later when I’d gone to college and he’d waited, Tammy Fae had done her best to put the kibosh on her son’s relationship with me. In the end, she’d gotten her wish. So, why keep after me now? I wondered if Buck Tanner was even around anymore.
I hurried across the boulevard to my car parked in front of Duke’s Donut Shoppe. With a few minutes still left on the parking meter, I dropped the busted tee shirt boxes on the rear seat and yanked open the door of my green BMW 3 Series convertible—an engagement gift from my last fiancé. I’d be damned if I’d ever give that louse the car back. I tossed my purse on the passenger seat and draped my bag of dry cleaning over it as I slid behind the wheel. The blistering black leather seat burned the backs of my legs. Should’ve put the top up, I thought. I twisted around to the back, yanked a new tee from one of the torn boxes, and shoved the shirt under my thighs. Popping on my sunglasses, Maui Jims—another gift from my ignoble ex—I noticed in the rearview mirror that my face was beet red. Equal parts heat and humiliation.
“Welcome home, Eva.” I rolled my eyes.
I turned the key, shifted into drive, and shot onto the boulevard, heading out of the village, toward home. As I cruised past one freshly painted, gingerbread-trimmed Victorian building after another, my strawberry-blonde hair whipped around my head, free and tangled in the hot summer wind. About a mile outside town, I passed a white farmhouse with painted gnomes on a dirt lawn with scraggly rosebushes under an ancient live oak tree. An American flag hung from a pole mounted to the porch, where old Mister Moody pushed himself up from a rocking chair and waved as I drove by. I tapped the horn and waved back. Mister Moody didn’t know who I was. It didn’t matter. He’d been on that porch, waving to folks passing by, since I was a little girl. It was one of the things that I loved about my hometown.
I took a deep breath. I was starting to feel better.
In fact, despite Tammy Fae’s scurrilous beauty shop gossip—and the dubious future of my hair and nails, given that her place was the only salon in town—it felt darn good to be home. Back in Boston, the cost of living had been high. Winters had been long and cold. And friends had been few and far between. Most New Englanders were often too busy to chat as they blustered busily along crowded, noisy city streets. And, inexplicably, a woman with just a hint of a Southern accent didn’t rank as being as “smart” or “industrious” as her Northern counterparts.
By contrast, Southern Georgia’s Abundance County was a calm, bucolic place, with temperate weather and a realistic cost of living. Folks, like Mister Moody, were always ready with a neighborly wave. And, more often than not, locals meandered and stopped on the sidewalk to chitchat, saying, “I reckon,” before sharing thoughts and a smile.
In Abundance, neighbors welcomed neighbors at their kitchen doors with just-made, warm peach pies and friendly embraces. On balmy summer evenings, verandas sheltered friends and families lounging in wicker settees, playing cards, sipping sweet iced tea. And always, it was about the food. Homemade, delicious, down-home cuisine. Fried, salted, sugared, buttered. It was all good.
My stomach growled as I contemplated the evening’s menu at my family’s Knox Plantation. Chef Loretta had planned to serve up pan-fried Georgia trout with cracklin’ biscuits and a peach and pecan cake made with Daddy’s Knox Liquid Gold Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Yum.
I was real proud of Daddy and his new olive oil business. After a series of droughts, a poor economy, and decades of crummy returns for Georgia farmers, a few years earlier, he’d almost lost the family farm. Then, he’d decided to try tapping into the huge, growing domestic olive oil market. Everyone knew that cultivating olives in Georgia was a risk—although Spanish missionaries had grown olive trees in the region five hundred years earlier, no one had tried or successfully grown olives on a large scale since Thomas Jefferson’s day. And Jefferson’s vision of olive trees flourishing throughout the American Southeast had never come to fruition, mostly because winters were too long and cold, even in the South. Still, thanks to Dad’s painstaking research, new technologies, and improved cultivars, the oils made from his first crop had already garnered awards. In fact, his was the first-ever successful commercial olive operation in the Southeast. And it was my job to let the world know about it.
After my mortifying wedding-day blowout in Boston, Daddy had offered me a job as head of PR and guest relations for the family plantation. Also, behind the main plantation house, where I’d grown up—we called it the “big house”—the tiny, antique cook’s cottage was to be mine for as long as I wanted. And my dad had gotten my big sis, Daphne—who was running her own business, a guest inn at the big house—to spruce up the one-room cottage for me.
Several miles beyond the village, a heavy-duty pickup truck towing a livestock trailer passed me going the other direction. Then, another truck, towing harvesting equipment, rumbled by as I whizzed past gracious Georgian- and Federal-style mansions set well back from the road on exquisitely manicured lawns. Long, cobblestoned drives were lined with flowering peach trees, tall magnolias, ambrosia-scented camellias, and mound after mound of blooming rosebushes. The car motor hummed as I took in a heady breath of the sweetly scented air.
I zipped by dusty pickups and faded cars parked in the gravel lot outside Carter’s Country Corner Store. Inside, undoubtedly, weatherworn men in grimy overalls were sipping RC Colas and playing checkers. Same way they’d been doing for generations.
Closer to home, I passed a couple of longleaf pine forests. Typical of Southern Georgia wire grass country, the forests teemed with wildlife, including deer, turkey, rabbit, quail, and largemouth bass. And every now and again, I passed swaths of flat, sandy-soiled farmlands that harvested cotton, onions, soybeans, peanuts, pecans, blueberries, peaches, and more. The neat fields were laid out next to antique barns and rambling farmhouses—several were built before the Civil War, like my family’s place, Knox Plantation.
This was quintessential Deep South countryside. Land of exquisite charm. Natural splendor. Southern pride.
A wrinkled, old codger in a rusted Chevy pickup loaded with manure honked and waved as he accelerated and passed by. The truck backfired, enveloping me in a noxious cloud of blue smoke.
Okay. So, on the other side of Abundance there was a chemical plant and a prison. Plus, there were some spooky cemeteries and a couple of big, scary swamps in Abundance County. And lots of crappy little cinder block homes on unkempt lots on the far side of town near the railroad tracks. And if you weren’t from Abundance, you never would be from Abundance, even if you lived there the rest of your life. Honestly, when you get right to it, folks were always meddling in one another’s business—Tammy Fae Tanner and Debi Dicer weren’t the only ones. For that matter, most Abundance women could smile at your face while happily stabbing you in the back. And although they’d rather be caught dead than admit it, the men in Abundance could be just as bad.
Of course, as cold as New England winters had been, Southern Georgia summers were crazy hot and stiflingly humid, with the wildest electrical storms I’d ever seen. And bugs—well, I’d forgotten how huge they could be—the Hercules beetles were bigger than my thumb. Then, there were snakes—copperheads, diamondbacks, cottonmouths—and they were just the venomous kind. As little girls, my sisters and I learned right quick how to tell a bad snake from a good snake. Good snakes got a free pass; bad snakes got the spade—a job always left for middle sister Pep and me because our oldest sister, diva Daphne, couldn’t be caught dead handling a “tool,” even if her life depended on it.
I glanced at the speedometer and clucked my tongue.
“Not too fast.”
I still had Massachusetts plates on the car. And I knew to watch for speed traps. As long as I could remember, deputies considered it “sport” to catch speeding out-of-town motorists. Growing up, everyone knew Sheriff Titus rewarded deputies who’d dispensed the most traffic tickets with gift certificates to Woody’s Gun Shop.
Oh—there’s that. Guns. And hunting. People came from all over to hunt in Abundance. I hated guns. And I disliked hunting. Still, tourists who came to hunt and fish in Abundance helped stave off development and maintain the longleaf pine and grassland forest, one of the most diverse and endangered ecosystems in the world.
I rounded Benderman’s Curve, and a giant white heron soared across the road ahead of me. Moments later, I motored through a tunnel of live oak trees that made a green canopy over the road. Gobs of Spanish moss hung from the ancient, twisted branches overhead. I slowed, breathing in the summery sweet scents of the Southern Georgia countryside. Lush and alive, Abundance County was my home. Heading out of the verdurous tunnel, I punched the accelerator and cruised toward Knox Plantation. Happy to be home, I was eager to get back on my feet again.
Blusters of wind exposed the undersides of leaves on giant live oaks lining the Knox Plantation drive. As I motored toward the big house, surrounded by acres of sprawling lawns and gardens, dark clouds crowded an early-evening sun, bruising the late-summer sky. A storm would roll in soon.
Scents of freshly cut grass mingled with the sweet perfumes of roses and fragrant “August lily” hostas seduced my senses as I pulled up to the white clapboard Knox family plantation house. A mix of neo-Gothic and Victorian styles with peaked red metal roofs and second-story balconies, the pre–Civil War home was fairly modest as far as antebellum plantations go. Like most Southern Georgia settlers who’d been independently minded and poorer than their Northern Georgia cousins, my ancestors had labored on their farmland almost entirely without slave labor. The main house at Knox Plantation had been built for a large, working family.
I parked at the side of the house below the wraparound porch, put up the convertible top, and stepped out onto the gravel drive just as an earsplitting engine roared from the backyard. A vintage “superbike” Kawasaki Zephyr 1100 motorcycle—restored, repainted red with a retro paint scheme, and upgraded to the max with top-of-the-line performance parts—blasted around the corner of the house, spewing gravel everywhere. Billy Sweet, my middle sister Pep’s husband, never acknowledged me as he hurtled past, hunched over the handlebars, wearing black-leather everything with silver chains, studs, motorcycle boots, and a big red helmet. Sporting over-the-knee leather boots and some sort of strapless, miniskirted, black-leather affair, my thirty-something sister, Pep, sat behind her husband on the bike, her bare arms wrapped tightly around his waist. “Pep” is short for Pepper-Leigh, but don’t tell her that I told you that—the only person who calls her “Pepper-Leigh” is our oldest sister, Daphne, and Pep can’t stand it. Anyway, with the earsplitting engine roar and a huge silver helmet domed over her tiny head, it was difficult to hear Pep as she waved and called out, “Seeeee yah-wwwwwl!” The couple peeled down the drive in a spray of smoke and gravel.
A screen door up at the house slammed shut.
“Thank goodness y’all are finally back!” cried Daphne from behind the porch railing. Daphne’s Southern drawl was thick and deep. Although we’d all grown up together, Daphne spoke with a far more pronounced drawl than Pep, and certainly way more than me, with my watered-down accent from all my years in New England. Still, I loved Daphne’s manner of speaking. It was all part of her elegant Southern veneer. My forty-something sister reveled in being the quintessential Southern belle, and she played the role to the max.
Tall and lithe, the epitome of perfection, and usually dressed in soft, feminine designer clothing, on that evening Daphne wore an uncharacteristically long, baglike linen tunic. Even more bizarre, her head was completely covered by a fancy silk scarf. Like a burka, she’d wrapped the big silk square around her head and shoulders, leaving just a slit for her eyes.
Daphne had four girls—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. She’d named them after the characters in Little Women, one of her two favorite books. Up on the porch, she gripped the hand of her youngest daughter, six-year-old Amy, who was wrestling to free herself as she clutched a metal lunch box to her chest. Like a perfect doll, Amy, was donning a beribboned pink dress with a poofy tulle skirt, suggesting a model little Southern belle. Unfortunately, the dress looked like a Halloween costume on poor Amy, who was anything but a “belle.”
Like her mother, Amy was pretty, slender, and fair skinned. Except, unlike her mother, who cherished all things ethereal and feminine, little Amy had a hankering for all things dark and creepy. During the children’s summer visit to Daphne’s ex-husband—pro ballplayer Bernard “Boomer” Bouvier, who’d remained in the marital home in Atlanta after the divorce—Amy had gotten ahold of some hair color and had dyed her waist-length, strawberry-blonde hair jet-black. Most likely, an older sibling had conspired in the offense, but no one copped to it. Regardless, against her fair, freckled skin, pale eyes, and blonde eyelashes, Amy’s long raven hair gave the child an eerie, otherworldly appearance. In the froufrou mini belle outfit, Amy looked like a wee Vampira dressed for a cotillion. And she didn’t like it one bit.
“Eva, I need y’all to help me tonight!” Daphne sounded completely exasperated as Amy wriggled to get free. “Earlene Azalea just dropped off Amy from her Bloomin’ Belles cotillion class in town.”
Daphne had convinced her best friend, Earlene Azalea Greene, to send her youngest daughter, Ertha Mae, along with Amy, to a finishing school, of sorts, for kindergarteners and first graders because, according to Daphne, “it’s never too early to learn good Southern manners.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” I said. “Amy, sweetie, did you have fun at your cotillion class tonight?”
Amy just scowled as her mother lamented, “Oh, Eva! I’m so chagrinned! I don’t know how I’ll face anyone in town, ever again! Amy was dismissed early after they discovered she’d brought that dreadful pet snake with her to class—in her new Amelia Bedelia lunch box!”
Amy stamped a foot and let out a grunt. Daphne’s heavy gold charm bracelet jingled as she kneeled down and hugged Amy still.
“Fiddle-dee-dee, child, stop your fussin’ this minute!”
No surprise, after Little Women, Daphne’s second favorite book was Gone with the Wind. Growing up, her role model had been Scarlett O’Hara, and she used to quote Scarlett ad nauseam. Unfortunately, she still did on occasion, and “fiddle-dee-dee” was one of her favorites.
Amy let out a yowl.
Daphne scolded, “Miss Amy! We’ve got important guests inside. They’ve come all the way from New York for our Southern hospitality and a little peace and quiet—I don’t reckon they’re takin’ kindly to your yammerin’ out here.”
“Daph, what’s with the head wrap?” I stepped in front of the car to the edge of the porch.
“Don’t y’all know? I’ve had a drrrr-eadful accident,” said Daphne as she stood.
Amy spun herself free from her mother’s grasp and twirled over to a big wicker chair on the porch, where she plopped down, kicking the chair leg and scowling with her arms folded against the lunch box cradled to her chest. Daphne studied her daughter for a moment before clucking her tongue and looking down at me in the parking area below.
“Eva, I’d be much obliged for y’all to help. Everyone’s abandoned me, and Chef Loretta can’t handle all the cookin’ and servin’ by herself. We’ve got important guests from New York, it’s the first week of school, and I’ve got to help the children with their homework and get them fed and ready for bed. Amy’s bein’ quite contrary, and Little Boomer is coming down with the sniffles.”
Daphne’s fifth and youngest child was Boomer, named after his athlete father. To distinguish one from the other, the child was known as “Little Boomer” and his father up in Atlanta was “Big Boomer.” The Little Women thing was bad, but how Daphne could name her child “Boomer,” I’ll never know, especially given her high-mindedness.
Amy kicked the chair. Daphne prattled on.
“Daddy is away in Texas this week. Pepper-Leigh just took off with that hooligan husband of hers for some sort of rock concert that she swears they bought tickets to a year ago.” Daphne pulled the wrapped scarf down from her nose and honked into a lacy handkerchief. “I hesitate to say anything negative about anyone, but I must say, I’ve never understood what Pepper-Leigh sees in him. Although, I guess we should be grateful he decided to step away from the gamblin’ table for at least one night.”
I waited as Daphne honked into the hankie again.
“And, much to my utter astonishment, Charlene and Darlene took the night off without telling me in advance, presumably so they could go to the same inauspicious concert! Who’s goin’ to serve our guests tonight? I should’ve never hired those twenty-something twins of Earlene Azalea’s . . . they’re too immature, not at all hardworking or conscientious like their mama. And I can’t fire them because I’ll insult my best friend. Honestly, if Charlene and Darlene spent half the time cleaning around here as they do texting, we’d have a five-star rating in no time. At least they’re each cute as a button, and the guests do seem to appreciate that. Anyhoo, other than you, the only other person left to help me tonight is Leonard.”
“Yes. You know, the field guide I hired last month. He’s out driving around somewhere in Chef Loretta’s car, supposedly getting ice. We’re nearly out. And apparently, he doesn’t have his own car. Who doesn’t have a car these days? I can’t believe that I hired a guide without a car. Oh well. So, y’all can see, Eva, dahhwr-ln’, the place is goin’ to hell in a handbasket, we’ve got hungry guests inside, and y’all are the only one around to help me.”
“Gee, Daph, thanks.” I rolled my eyes.
“Why didn’t y’all answer my calls? I’ve been tryin’ to reach y’all on the cell phone for an hour!”
Daphne’s “hour” sounded like “aowah.”
“I never carry my phone anymore.” I grabbed my dry cleaning from the convertible. “When it rings, it’s always reporters. Hassling me about Boston.”
“Well then, we need to get y’all a new number if that’s what it takes to end this runaway bride nonsense. Y’all can’t be goin’ around willy-nilly without a phone. It gets busier than a moth in a mitten around this place, and y’all need to be available, twenty-four, seven.”
“Daph, you haven’t answered my question. Why is your head trussed up?” I reached into the backseat and piled the busted boxes in my arms. In a minute, I’d be cross the back lawn, to my cottage.
“Who knew! I’m deathly allergic to lye!” she wailed. “My face, neck, chest—everything—is all red and swollen!”
“Lye? What . . .”
Daphne waved her arms dramatically.
“I was infusin’ olive oil and making lavender soap with our lady guests from New York while their husbands were fishing with Leonard.”
“Omigosh, Daphne, that’s terrible. I’m sorry.”
“I can’t let folks see me like this. And we’ve got the big Chamber of Commerce meetin’ comin’ up in two days. I’ve been plannin’ it for months—with Daddy’s new olive oils, and our new hospitality business, it’s our Knox Plantation comin’-out party, of sorts. And now, this!”
Daphne clutched her bosom, bent over, and made a high-pitched birdlike squeal. Amy looked up from the wicker chair, studying her mother. Showing such overt emotion amounted to an unacceptable lack of decorum, which was a big Southern social taboo. Even Amy knew that. Daphne would never do such a thing in public. Still, I’d seen Daphne do it on occasion, when it suited her, no doubt, while in the privacy of family. Drama Queen Daphne, “DQ” for short—that’s what Pep and I had nicknamed her growing up. Often she’d been prone to bouts of clutching her frail, undernourished bosom as she lamented about one unspeakable calamity or another. Moreover, given that things rarely lived up to Daphne’s exacting expectations—her ex had called her “impossibly” perfect—she’d spent a good deal of her life reacting to the tribulations of being Daphne. Although, I’d always suspected that her big boo-hoos were more for effect. Still, I couldn’t stand it when Daphne wailed. No one could.
Squinting up at the house against the early-evening sun, I noticed a curtain move in a second-story window behind one of the small balconies. That would be in the room belonging to the Gambinis, one of the two New York couples visiting for the week.
“Alright, I’ll help. As long as I don’t have to cook. You know I can’t cook.”
Just then, my little black dog, Dolly, came skittering around the corner of the house and jumped up on my leg to greet me. All whimpers, licks, and happy wags. As Dolly hit my leg, the cardboard shirt boxes in my arms tumbled to the ground.
I cradled Dolly and smothered her with kisses. Daddy and my sisters had given me the pup a week earlier to keep me company, and no doubt, to act as a distraction from the heartache of my broken engagement. I named her after Great Grandma Knox.
Amy climbed down the porch stairs, still holding her lunch box, and followed the rose-lined gravel path flanked by Daphne’s carefully pruned shrubs and flower gardens until she stood next to me. I put Dolly on the drive, and the pup was more than happy to jump all over Amy and deliver more licks.
Picking up the spilled boxes and shirts, I caught a smile flicker across Daphne’s face, before she dabbed her eyes with her hankie and said, “I knew I could count on y’all, Eva.”
Black smoke billowed from the skillet on the range. I plugged my ears as the smoke alarm screeched overhead.
“What the hell!” muttered Chef Loretta.
Loretta was a large, oddly quiet woman with dark features, big hands, and no neck. Daphne had hired the native Rhode Islander a few months earlier after she’d shown up in response to an ad for a chef to cook for Knox Plantation guests. Despite her New England background, Daphne said Loretta had prepared the most delicious Southern-style meal she’d ever tasted. My sister hired Loretta on the spot and gave her a small basement apartment to live in, rent free.
Loretta shut off the blender and marched across the kitchen floor to the imported, fire-engine red, double-oven Lacanche range. Grabbing the skillet handle with a mitt before yanking it off the gas burner, she tossed the smoking pan and its charred contents into the farmhouse sink.
“Now you’ve messed up my timing,” Loretta shouted over the screaming smoke alarm. “I need those cracklin’s for the biscuit batter!”
“I’m so sorry!” I dragged an oak chair across the wide-pine floorboards before racing around the kitchen, looking for something to fan the smoke away from the overhead alarm.
Except for the huge red range and the Sub-Zero refrigerator, both of which Daphne surreptitiously yanked from her Atlanta home during her divorce, the spacious, smoke-filled kitchen was pretty much as it had been while I grew up, with red laminate countertops, white farmhouse sink, creamy painted cupboards with glass-fronted built-ins for china, and a round claw-foot oak table and six pressed-oak Larkin chairs.
“I told Daphne that I can’t cook,” I shouted. “She said I was just helping serve the guests.”
Grabbing a thin wood-composite cutting board, I jumped up on the chair under the alarm and furiously started fanning the smoke near the screeching ceiling device. Loretta turned up the fan in the giant ventilation hood over the red range. As I continued flapping on the chair, Loretta marched around, muttering to herself, tending to her various in-progress dishes. Finally, the screeching stopped. I jumped from the chair and ran to open the back door, hoping the remaining smoke would drift outside.
At the range, Loretta stirred her crowder peas and butter beans, a classic Southern side dish flavored with savory ham hocks and spicy hot peppers, as they simmered on a back burner. Oil in a big cast-iron skillet heated on another burner while a second skillet was half filled with olive oil, ready for the fresh trout that Loretta would dredge in buttermilk, spiced panko, and pecans.
Big Loretta turned and stared at me, like a thug who wanted me gone. Her look gave me the creeps. She grabbed a third cast-iron skillet and thunked it on an open burner. Next, she marched across the floor, yanked open the refrigerator, grabbed a package of salt pork, and tossed it on the cutting board before unwrapping it and slicing off a hunk. With freakish speed and precision, she diced the salt pork and tossed it into the skillet.
“Start again. This time, don’t stop stirring until the bits are browned. Then, right after the cracklin’s are done, you’ll have to drain them on paper towels and make the biscuits right away,” she ordered. “Guests will be down to eat in another thirty minutes, and I’ve got okra and trout to fry.”
“But I can’t cook!”
Loretta brushed a baking sheet with olive oil and placed it in the oven to warm.
“You don’t have a choice,” the Rhode Islander said tersely. “I worked too hard to get here. I’m not letting the likes of you screw this up for me.” And she gave me that if-looks-could-kill stare again. It occurred to me that it was remarkably similar to the Southern-woman stare that I’d gotten from Tammy Fae earlier. I’d never noticed the look while I’d lived in New England. But then, there were lots of things that I hadn’t noticed during my eighteen years in New England. Apparently, the stare was a universal expression. At least when it came to me.
So, for ten minutes I stood, as instructed, under the tutelage of dour Chef Loretta, stir-frying salt pork bits until they were suitably browned and brittle. At one point, I took the skillet off the heat, ready to dump the cracklin’s on a paper towel to drain, but Loretta grabbed my arm and said, “More!” So, I returned the skillet to the burner and stirred the bits until they were extra crispy.
Meanwhile, Loretta hustled about stoically, working next to me as she used a slotted spoon to scoop up and drop sliced okra dredged in a panko and buttermilk mixture—this one with cornmeal, eggs, and hot sauce—in and out of the hot oil on the range top. Somehow, at the same time, dredged and fried the trout filets in pairs, bumping my leg for me to move aside when she needed to open the oven in front of my knees to keep the already fried filets warm while she worked on the next batch.
She thumped my arm, and I dumped my cracklin’s on a paper towel and placed the hot pan in the sink to cool.
“Here,” ordered Loretta as she directed me to a large bowl filled with flour. The flour was arranged so that there was a deep well in the center. Loretta poured cream into the well, stirring with a spatula until the flour was moistened. “Dump in the bits.”
I dumped the drained salt pork cracklin’s into the flour mixture and stirred.
Loretta and I continued to work that way, side by side, with Loretta occasionally barking out instructions. I transferred my dough to a slab of lightly floured marble and carefully followed Loretta’s commands, patting the dough down with my floured hands, folding and patting down the dough again. She handed me a drinking glass, and I pressed the rim into the dough to make each biscuit round, before placing each round onto an already-greased baking sheet. Loretta brushed on some whisked egg whites over the biscuit tops before grabbing the baking sheet and sliding it into the oven. Wisely, I noticed, she wasn’t letting me near the ovens.
Although it was the kitchen where I’d grown up, prepping the meal with Chef Loretta seemed so different from the days I remembered as a child. After Mother left, Daphne, Pep, and I used to cook together—Pep and I had been so young, we stood on stools at the counter. We’d laugh and tease one another, almost always screwing up whatever it was we were preparing. Of course, we’d fooled around—spaghetti ended up on the walls, ketchup on the counters, and we ate more cookie dough than we actually baked. And fried food? Forget it. Daddy’d be cleaning up spattered grease from the walls, counters, and floors for hours after we’d gone to bed. Afterward, we’d all sat around together at the kitchen table for our family meals. I can’t imagine what it must’ve taken to clean our clothes. Finally, after a year or so of blackened and raw dinners—it’s a wonder someone didn’t end up in the hospital from burns or food poisoning—Dad hired a woman from down the road, whom we affectionately called Auntie Ella, to come and cook dinners for us.
Behind me, I heard a light footstep in the kitchen.
“Gracious, me! All this smoke!” I turned to see my sister, Daphne, still in her head wrap and ugly linen tunic, fanning her face with one delicate, lily-white hand, her heavy gold charm bracelet jingling away. In her other hand, she held something poofy, made of black-and-white fabric. It looked like another one of Amy’s froufrou Blooming Belles dresses.
“How are y’all gettin’ along?” Without waiting for an answer, Daphne said lightheartedly, “Good! Now, the guests are already downstairs in the living room, and they’ll be ready to eat any minute. Eva, I brought this down for y’all to wear.”
As she spoke, my sister fitted a short tulle petticoat around my waist and pressed it closed with Velcro. Like a tutu, it barely covered my shorts.
“What the . . .”
“I see you’re wearin’ a black tee shirt. That’ll work just fine,” she fussed. Something dropped over my head, and Daphne’s arms were around my waist again, pulling the sides of an apron to the back where she tied a big bow.
“Daphne, what is this?” I looked down to see I was wearing a full-waisted black apron with a white top skirt in the front. It was miniskirt length. Both the black sweetheart-shaped neckline and white top skirt were bordered in thick rickrack trim. The overall effect screamed French maid.
Daphne stepped back and took me in.
“Oh, that’s just dahhwr-ln’ on y’all!” She clucked her tongue. “I wish we had time to style your hair . . . Your little ponytail will have to do.”
The apron and tutu-like miniskirt circled all around me, completely covering my shorts.
“I’m not wearing this.”
“Of course you are,” cooed Daphne. “I need y’all to look like a legitimate server, and the twins took their uniforms home. Last time they did that, I heard they wore them to some sort of fraternity debauch at the college.” Daphne shuddered. “Besides,” she said, looking me up and down, “if it’s good enough for me, it’s certainly good enough for y’all. I used to wear this little outfit all the time.”
“You used to wear this outfit? This?” I looked down at the French maid getup, with its ridiculous miniskirted crinoline. “Wait. No. Oh no! It’s a French maid costume . . . for the bedroom! Isn’t it?”
“Isn’t it precious?”
I pictured Big Boomer ripping off the Velcro-wrapped crinoline from my sister’s lithe frame before he pounced . . .
“Eeeew. No way. I’m sorry, sis, there is no way I’m wearing this ridiculous thing. Get it off me.”
I reached back to untie the bow at my waist. Daphne grabbed my hand, firmly leading me toward the dining room door.
“Boomer used to love me in this little number! He said I looked like every man’s dream.” She sighed wistfully. “Now, y’all just go on out there and serve the guests. With the black tee underneath, it looks perfectly normal. Y’all look adorable.”
“Forget it! Daphne, what are you thinking? This is a guest inn, not a brothel.”
She gave me the look.
“Eva, this is an emergency! Y’all can’t go out there looking like Daisy Duke.” She turned to Chef Loretta. “Doesn’t she look like a classy French server, Chef Loretta?”
“See? I told you. Now here, take these out to the guests.”
Daphne plopped a delicate china plate brimming with food in each of my hands before pushing open the swinging door and shoving me into the dining room. Before I could turn back, the door swung closed and the guests looked up expectantly from my granny’s antique mahogany table.
Seated at the formally attired table, under the dimmed crystal chandelier, the two men from New York, Sal Malagutti and Guido Gambini, wore pastel-colored polyester golf shirts with wide collars that framed their thick necks and heavy gold chains. They looked like a pair of grumpy toads. There were big gold rings on their stubby fingers. Sal, seated on the left, with a pristine white linen napkin tucked into the collar of his shirt, appeared to be a bigger, older toad than Guido, who was seated on the right.
Across from her husband, under an overprocessed beehive hairdo, Bambi Gambini wore ginormous false eyelashes that looked like black butterflies had landed on her blue eyelids. Glossy pink lipstick drew too much attention to her artificially puffed lips. She’d pulled the zipper on her bright pink velour jogging suit low enough to expose her balloonlike boobs bursting from a teeny white scoop-necked tee. Next to her, Judi Malagutti was slightly older looking than Bambi—maybe in her forties—but still young looking for her age. Big boned, she was olive skinned with near-black eyes and a very low forehead. A straight hairline defined the thick, somewhat unruly, long black hair. Judi also wore a velour running suit—hers was yellow. And she wore lots of gold jewelry. Although not beauty-pageant, plastic-pretty like Bambi, Judi was attractive in a smoldering, earthy sort of way. Judi barely looked up at me as she continued speaking to her husband.
“Why not, Sal?” she said. “Women have used olive oil in beauty routines forever, right, Bambi?”
“Um-hum,” said the blonde as she nodded. The expression on her face didn’t change at all.
I set each china plate—filled with pan-fried Georgia trout drizzled with pecan brown butter, pork-seasoned simmered crowder peas and butter beans, buttermilk coleslaw, and pan-fried okra—in front of each woman. Then, I went to the kitchen door, where Loretta waited with two more plates of food.
“It’s a cockamamy idea,” growled Sal. “You girls waste my time with harebrained crap.”
“I remember mother heating olive oil and putting it in my hair as a conditioner. And great-grandmother used to mix it in her night cream. Didn’t you guys do the same, Bambi?”
“Uh-huh.” No change in her expression. Bambi placed a pressed linen napkin in her lap and studied the food on her plate.
I served a plate of food to each man.
“Sal, we could feature all sorts of skin care products,” continued Judi. “We could call the company ‘Olive Glow Bath and Body’ or ‘Judi’s Natural Beauty.’ What’s wrong with that?”
From the kitchen, Loretta handed off a basket of cracklin’ biscuits and pitcher of sweet lime tea.
“I like ‘Beauty from Bambi,’” said Bambi in a soft, sultry voice. “Remember, we talked about it on our walk today, Judi.”
I set the biscuits on the table and began working my way around the guests, pouring tea. As I reached around Judi for her empty glass, Sal banged the table hard with his fist.
“I’m not havin’ any wife of mine gettin’ into any business,” croaked Sal sharply. “Business is man’s work. Besides, like I said, the only way to make money in olive oil is how we’ve been doin’ it for years. Bottling and distribution. That’s our biz. So, stay out of it and shut up about it.”
I finished pouring and gently set the last glass down on the linen tablecloth in front of Sal’s plate.
“You know, Sal, I’m getting tired of the way you treat me,” scolded Judi. “Bambi and I’ve got good ideas. The least you could do is listen.”
“Yeah,” echoed Bambi. “We know lotsa stuff.” She stabbed a single crowder pea with her fork and held it up to examine it. “How about ‘Bambi’s Beaudacious Beauty’? I like that name.”
“What does that have to do with olive oil?” asked Judi. “It’s supposed to be about olive oil.”
“You’re both stupid,” said Sal, grabbing a biscuit. “Right, Guido?”
“Right, boss.” With coleslaw on his chin, Guido shoveled a huge forkful of trout and crowder peas into his noisy mouth.
“I don’t see why we can’t have our own business. It gets boring around the house all day long. Hey, speaking of olive oil, that reminds me,” said Judi. “Miss.” She turned in her chair and looked up at me as I crossed behind her. “Bambi and I were on our power walk earlier, and we noticed some of the olive trees didn’t look too good. Are they sick?”
“Say!” interrupted Bambi, looking at me. “You’re that girl in the YouTube video, aren’t you? The runaway bride? From Boston?” Holding a single piece of fried okra on her fork, Bambi’s hand froze midair as she stared at me. With her batwing eyelashes and pouty, poofed-up lips, she looked like a surprised blowfish. The fried okra dropped to her plate. “Oh, phooey!”
“Damned if it isn’t!” said Guido, staring at me as he pushed a mound of trout and coleslaw into his plump face. Then, with a mouthful, he said, “You’re that crazy bitch who decked the weatherman! They were showing you on that Celebrity Sneek Peek TV show the other day. Guys, we got a real wacko servin’ us!”
“Sal, why do you always have to be so nasty and rude?” Judi scolded.
“Maybe ’cause I ain’t getting enough.” Sal sulked.
Judi squinted up at me. “Say, it is you, isn’t it!” She looked delighted.
Still chewing, Sal leered, as he looked me up and down. I shrunk back, hiding behind the big silver pitcher of iced tea in my hands. If being the “wacko” from Boston wasn’t bad enough, dressed in Daphne’s French maid outfit, I was sure that I resembled a cheap call girl.
“You know, you’re the reason we found this place, isn’t she, Sal?” said Judi.
Sal ignored his wife and just kept leering. Then, he shoved a pile of coleslaw into his mouth, followed by half a biscuit. He never took his eyes off me.
“Yeah, sure,” he said, finally looking down.
“We saw the TV show about you being a runaway bride in Boston. The lady on TV said that you ran away from your hometown in Georgia once, and that your family had just started an olive plantation where guests could visit. Right, Sal?”
“Yeah, sure. Could ya pass the biscuits?”
“So, I looked up your place on the Internet and made last-minute reservations for our thirtieth anniversary. We were so lucky you had a cancellation! I knew this place was your family’s and all, but I never actually expected to see you here. You’re almost famous!”
“We’re glad that you could join us on the plantation for your anniversary,” I said calmly.
Guido wiped his mouth with his sleeve. Like Sal, he lasciviously looked me up and down. He slathered a biscuit in butter and shoved the entire thing in his mouth, still not taking his eyes off me.
“Please enjoy your dinner,” I said with a smile that I hoped didn’t look too insincere. “I’ve left the iced tea on the table so you may help yourselves to more, if you like. Chef Loretta has a wonderful, homemade Georgia peach and pecan olive oil cake she’ll be offering for dessert.”
I backed into the kitchen door before anyone could say more. Chagrinned about the runaway bride comments, I was even more irked at the sleazy way the men had eyed me. In the kitchen, Chef Loretta picked her teeth with a toothpick as I yanked Daphne’s big bow behind my waist and tossed the French maid apron. Then, I ripped off the stupid crinoline.
After traveling twelve hundred miles to take refuge back home, I still hadn’t managed to leave the stupid Boston scandal behind me.
Dolly snored loudly from her cushy dog bed on the floor. Sitting on Granny’s antique four-poster bed, laptop across my knees, surrounded with books, magazines, news clippings, and printouts about olive oil, I looked out a rain-spattered window. Fat spikes of lightning, angry cracks of thunder, and sideways rain pummeled the tall palmettos and live oaks in the yard. Between gusts of howling wind and rain, I could see the big house hulking in the night across the lawn. The place was completely dark except for a small light coming from my sister Daphne’s room on the third floor. The five kids, also on the third floor; the two couples from New York, the Malaguttis and the Gambinis, in their second-floor guest rooms; and Chef Loretta in her basement apartment were all sound asleep, no doubt.
Restless and unable to sleep, I closed my laptop and picked up a magazine. Still, my mind kept wandering. No wonder. I’d suffered from insomnia as long as I could remember. And, often when I did sleep, my kooky dreams would awaken me. Then, I’d be unable to get back to sleep again. Although people said exercising before bed kept you awake at night, in my case the opposite was true. I’d found that running at night cleared my head from all those annoying, anxiety-ridden thoughts that kept me from sleep. And on that stormy Monday night, there were plenty of reasons to run. Still, the storm outside made it impossible. So, I fretted.
An old ceiling fan churned around and around overhead. Still, it didn’t seem to move the stiflingly humid air. I blotted my forehead with the sleeve of my oversized GEORGIA VIRGIN tee as my mind wandered back to dinner, when perfect strangers had reveled in the realization that the infamous, “wacko” runaway bride from Boston was serving them.
Of course, they’d been referring to the event two weeks earlier, on my wedding day, when I’d very publically ditched my fiancé, popular Boston weatherman Zack Black, whom I’d foolishly mistaken for the love of my life. Afterward, the TV network damage-control team for my not-to-be husband, Zack, made sure that he was still a paragon and that I’d lost all credibility—both with my clients and the public at large.
In a heartbeat, my weatherman, our shared condo, our future home in the suburbs, and my career as a pubic relations consultant had all gone up in smoke. I was homeless, broke, and single.
Worse still, because my ex-fiancé was an up-and-coming network “star,” sensational details of the wedding drama made all the national tabloids. And, of course, once word got out that I’d run away before, my miserable, mascara-stained mug began circulating on the Internet, big-time. Folks were messaging, tweeting, and hashtagging all about the antics of notorious runaway bride Eva Knox. One late-night television host even made a joke about me during his monologue. Worse still, YouTube videos of my unseemly behavior outside the Boston church ensured that my cringe-worthy fifteen minutes of fame would haunt me forever. Like the Malaguttis and the Gambinis, folks all over the country couldn’t be happier to feast on my wretched heartbreak.
Sitting on the bed, absently flipping the pages of a magazine, I wondered if it was some sort of karma. After all, eighteen years after running away from Buck, I’d finally been forced to run back home, tail between my legs, to face folks like Tammy Fae Tanner. Folks who despised me.
And as much as I tried pretending Tammy Fae’s and Debi’s harsh words hadn’t mattered, they’d really gotten to me that afternoon. That, and the fact that people considered me some sort of unhinged celebrity, worthy of derision, only worsened my distress about the Boston affair.
Leave it to me; I’d handily served up another juicy helping of wedding-gone-wrong fodder for the Abundance Ladies Club to dish over. No wonder I was Tammy Fae’s perennial topic du jour. A wave of tear-ridden anxiety heaved up from my chest. I grabbed a tissue, blotted my eyes, and blew my nose while a crack of thunder sounded off outside. Actually, I’d first thought it was a gunshot. However, nose deep in tissue, I hadn’t been able to tell for sure.
“Get a grip, Eva. Focus on the olives.”
I tossed the spent tissue on the bed and ripped out an article titled “Olive Oil’s Dark Side” from the New Yorker magazine. It was all about rampant fraud ingrained in the olive oil industry, and how it’d been going on since Roman times. Intentionally mislabeling schlocky oils as coveted, more expensive “extra virgin” oils—a moniker reserved for only the naturally finest and purest of oils—was a common trick, said the article. Moreover, new technologies made it possible to chemically treat bad oils, camouflaging their impurities and aiding in the masquerade. I put the pages down. Could an honest small-town farmer like my father really make it in this business? Or would Dad’s venture to produce blue-ribbon oils ultimately end up being nothing more than a big, expensive boondoggle that would result in our losing the family plantation after all?
An earsplitting CRACK, followed by a BOOM, echoed outside. The teeny cottage shook as wind-driven rain spattered through an open window. Dolly woofed from her cushion beside my bed.
“It’s only thunder, Dolly.”
I reached into my nightstand drawer, pulled out a dog biscuit, and tossed it to Dolly. She nabbed it from the air and chomped it to bits in a flash. My grandparents’ black Victorian clock on the mantel chimed musically. It was eleven o’clock at night.
Dolly jumped up and barked again.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
There were three things that first drew me to want to read author Kelly Lane’s ONE FOOT IN THE GROVE. The story is set in a small Georgia town, the theme deals with olive growing, and it is a new murder mystery series. I was rewarded with a tantalizing story featuring a very likable protagonist and a cast of delightful townsfolks. Eva Knox seems to have the worst luck with men, she keeps leaving them at the altar. After her second failed attempt to marry, Eva leaves Boston and returns home to Abundance, GA, to help with her family’s olive farm. While she knew there’d be a few rough spots (she’d run away from home 18 years ago leaving local boy Buck Tanner at the altar), she wasn’t expecting to be a murder suspect. To make things worse, the investigating officer is her ex, Buck. With her sisters’ help, Eva has to find the killer before she gets squeezed out. Lane has crafted a fun setting for this charming new series. The small town atmosphere is spot-on with zany residents and a beautiful described backdrop. The characters are well-developed, likable and realistic. ONE FOOT IN THE GROVE moves at a good pace and holds your interest from beginning to end The suspense is blended with humor and friendship for a well-rounded story. Lane has harvested a winner with this first installment in her Olive Grove Mystery series. FTC Full Disclosure – A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher in hopes I would review it. However, receiving the complimentary copy did not influence my review. The thoughts are completely my own and given honestly and freely.
Debut Shows Promise, but Needed More Work Since I’m always up for trying a new series, I was interested in One Foot in the Grove from the moment I heard about it. After all, I do enjoy olives, and this series features a family that grows them. But then I started hearing mixed things about the book, so I kept putting off reading it. Sadly, those mixed things are accurate. Eva Knox has returned home to Abundance, Georgia, something she thought she’d never do. But after leaving a second man at the altar, she figured retreating home was the best solution. She’s ready to dive in to use her PR expertise to help her family grow their new olive oil business as well as the bed and breakfast her older sister has also opened up on the family property. A week after arriving back home, her family is shocked when their chef and their fishing guide vanish, leaving a note saying they decided to elope. Going for a run in the rain, Eva stumbles over a dead body. Since the current sheriff is the first man Eva left at the altar – eighteen years before, she is certain she won’t get a fair shake from the police or the local gossip mill. So Eva decides to clear her name herself. But can she do it? As I was reading this book, I had a hard time deciding just how I was feeling about things. Take the plot, for example. On one hand, it includes some fun twists to the usual cozy formula that I enjoyed. On the other hand, at times the information Eva needs falls into her lap or the plot advances because Eva does some crazy stupid thing. I’m usually fairly forgiving of a main character acting stupidly, but even I was bothered a time or two here. The climax, while creative and logical, was also rather abrupt. Likewise, the characters are a mixed bag. At times, I liked them, and I found a few very intriguing based on secrets they are hiding. Others, like Eva’s oldest sister, are dangerously close to cliche territory. I feel like there are more layers to some, but others are flat. Of course, we get recipes in the back of the book for southern food rich in olive oil. We get such things as tapenade, tomato toast, garlic smashed potatoes, and dreamy peach frosting. It’s unfortunate this is such a mixed bag because I could see the potential for a fun series here. If the premise interests you, pick up One Foot in the Grove. You just might find you enjoy it.