It’s January in Rosedale, Tennessee, and Mae December is preparing for her March wedding to Sheriff Ben Bradley. Mae, who boards dogs for a living, is also busy tending to her pregnant dog and scouting locations for the movie featuring the music of her former fiancé Noah West, who died in a car accident four years earlier. Fortunately the picturesque old house at the end of Little Chapel Road is for rent.
Just as filming is about to begin, a man is shot on the set, but manages to drive himself to the hospital, where he dies before he can ID his killer. He was a member of the film crew, but also a local, and circumstances point to his being a confidential informant for Ben’s predecessor, Sheriff Trey Cantrell, also the owner of the house turned movie set. At the time of the shooting, the victim had been stealing a large sum of money from a safe on the premises. Whose money is it, and where does it come from?
The Rosedale Sheriff’s Office not only has another murder case on its hands, but one that will dredge up a past long buried. How far will the guilty parties go to protect their secrets?
The sixth and final book in the Mae December Mystery series, which began with One Dog Too Many.
About the Author
Lia Farrell is the pen name of the mother and daughter writing team of Lyn Farquhar and Lisa Fitzsimmons, who live in Michigan and Tennessee, respectively. Both are life-long readers who are also dog lovers. Lyn owns two Welsh corgis and Lisa has two pugs and a Siberian husky. Lisa works as a Muralist and Interior Designer and Lyn is a Professor of Medical Education. One Dog Too Many is their first novel. The next book in the Mae December Mystery series will be Two Dogs Lie Sleeping, which will be released by Camel Press in 2014. For more information, go to liafarrell.net.
Read an Excerpt
Mae looked around her living room and gave a satisfied sigh. The January afternoon was cold and dreary, but inside her historic farmhouse, all was warm and cozy. Her fiancé's son, Matthew, hadn't wanted her to put the Christmas decorations away until after he went back to his mom's house yesterday, so the tall tree was still in the corner by the fireplace.
"It's just so pretty, Miss Mae. I wish we could leave it forever," the kindergartner had said, looking up at the twelve-foot tree with a wistful expression. He was such a cute, smaller version of his dad, her fiancé Sheriff Ben Bradley, that she found it hard to resist his wishes and had agreed to leave the decorations in place a week longer than she normally would have. With a real tree, that might have been a mistake. She had been pulling ornaments and strings of lights off the tree for several hours.
"This place looks clean, but I'll probably be finding pine needles 'til the wedding," she muttered to herself. Ben had proposed on Valentine's Day last year, and their wedding was scheduled for the Saturday before Saint Patrick's Day, March 14th, a little more than two months away.
It was shaping up to be a busy time for the young woman who would turn thirty-two a few months after her wedding. In addition to running a dog-boarding and breeding business from her home, Mae was a talented artist. After she'd sold four oversized oil paintings from her Voodoo Village series to the governor of Tennessee last fall, her work was in higher demand than ever. Most days she tried to carve out time for painting, but between the kennel business and the holidays, she had fallen behind. And I'm not catching up anytime soon.
Several years before she met Ben Bradley, Mae had been engaged to Noah West. The talented singer-songwriter died in a car accident before they could marry and left Mae the exclusive rights to his catalogue of songs. In September of last year, a movie production company had offered to buy the rights for a healthy chunk of cash. The company wanted to use Noah's music as the soundtrack for a movie they were making near Nashville. Acting on the advice of her Uncle Phil (himself a well-respected songwriter) Mae had instead decided to license the music for a smaller amount of money and a share of the movie profits.
"Don't get carried away by a one-time offer that sounds generous," her uncle said. "Recurring revenue's always your best bet."
She'd offered to do some location scouting for the movie company and they hired her as a local consultant — after warning her to keep the selected locations confidential. Mae had an appointment today to look at a rental house down the street. While Noah was alive, the old white farmhouse had been rented by some musicians who were trying to make it in the country-music business. Rents in the tiny town of Rosedale were much lower than in nearby Nashville, and Noah had spent many an evening playing and singing on the front porch of the house, along with other musicians and neighbors who dropped in. When Mae was reading the movie script, the old house popped into her mind and she called her friend Connie to see if it was currently occupied.
"Well, you're in luck," Connie said. "Their lease is up January fifteenth, but the tenants moved out right before the first."
They agreed to meet at the rental at three o'clock. Mae took her cellphone out of her back pocket and checked the time. It was already almost two, and she had several ornament boxes to carry to the attic before getting cleaned up to walk through the house. She stuck the phone in the back pocket of her jeans and hoisted the first box up the stairs.
An hour later, showered and wearing dressier jeans, warm boots, and a red jacket over a chocolate-brown sweater, Mae clipped a leash on Cupcake the basset hound and headed out the front door. Titan, her male corgi, and Tallulah, her black female pug, had both declined her offer of a walk. The older they got, the less interest they had in being outside in the cold. Tatie, her young female corgi, normally enjoyed walks; however, she was expecting her first litter in a few weeks and preferred to loll about in her warm bed.
Cupcake was still young enough to be excited about going anywhere. Looking down at her, Mae smiled. She was small for a basset, but well-endowed in the ears department.
"I'm glad we don't have to tie those ears up anymore, Cupcake."
At the sound of her name, the dog looked up and wagged her tail so hard it thumped her ribs on either side.
"Still need to grow into your tail a bit, I see."
Mae reached the bottom of her long driveway and turned left, heading down toward the river. The old white house was only four doors down from Mae's place, but on Little Chapel Road, that was a hike. All the houses on her street were on five- to ten-acre parcels. The gravel drive to the old house turned in just before the street dead- ended on River Road. Mae paused to let Cupcake relieve herself on a long clump of grass. While she was standing there, a maroon Jeep came around the corner and slowed to creep by her. The sun glared off the windshield so she couldn't see whether the driver returned her neighborly wave. When Cupcake was ready, they followed the narrow drive through a clump of cedar trees up to the wrap-around porch of the ramshackle place.
Connie's sleek, silver convertible was parked in the grass. The faded wooden front door stood open. Mae and the basset walked up to the porch and inside.
"Hi, Mae. This place is a pit," Connie said in a cheerful voice. "I don't think the most recent tenants really lived here. They probably only used it for practicing music or storage. If you think those movie people will like it, I can write up their lease today." She crouched down next to Cupcake, seemingly unconcerned about the dirty floor or getting dog hair on her black wool coat. "Hello, precious."
Cupcake licked her cheek and Connie laughed before straightening up to give Mae a hug. "I haven't seen you in ages. How are you?"
"I'm good. You haven't mentioned that this might be a movie set to anyone, have you?"
"Nope. Our agency has worked with production companies before. I know the deal."
"Good. I'm just getting back on track after the holidays. Did you have a good Christmas?"
Mae's friend smoothed her dark hair and tilted her head to one side. "We did, but I was more than ready for my kids to go back to school yesterday. All three of them were really disappointed that Rob and I didn't get them a puppy for Christmas, and they weren't shy about letting us know."
"I think you made the right decision. Winter is not the best time of year to be training a puppy, that's for sure. I'd wait 'til spring if I were you. Tatie's first litter will be here soon and ready to go six weeks later if you're interested in a Cortese."
"What in the world is a Cortese?" Connie asked, crossing the wooden floor of the empty front room to adjust the thermostat. "Good, the heat works," she murmured.
"A cross between a corgi and a Maltese. You should check out my website. I've got pictures of both parents and some Cortese puppies." Mae went into sales mode. "They're super cute and they don't shed."
She followed Connie into the outdated kitchen, where her friend was regarding the worn linoleum with dismay. "I'll talk to Rob about it and let you know. I guess this place is ... picturesque, right?" Mae took a deep shaky breath as Cupcake's leash fell from her hand. "It used to be a beautiful place. It's gotten so rundown. I haven't been inside this house since a few months before Noah died." She blinked back sudden tears at a remembered image of him sitting on that very kitchen counter tuning his guitar. "I didn't realize it would affect me like this."
"Oh, you poor thing!" Connie picked up Cupcake's leash and handed it back to Mae. "Go get in my car and I'll lock up. We'll run this little sweetheart home; then I'm taking you somewhere for a drink. My treat."
Mae tried to insist that she needed to see the rest of the house, but her friend was having none of it. "I'll take a video with my phone before I lock the door. We can go to that little wine bar in Rosedale and look at the video there. They open at four o'clock."
"But I should drive myself so you don't have to bring me home later," Mae protested.
Connie shook her head. "That cute fiancé of yours is still at work, right? I bet he'll bring you back home. Go get in the car, honey."
After dropping Cupcake off at home, Connie drove Mae into the historic heart of Rosedale, parking in the alley behind JJ's Wine Bar. Mae sent Ben a text asking him to meet her there for dinner when he left work. She and Connie went in through the back door, greeted the owner, and found seats by the fireplace. Mae's phone buzzed in her pocket and she took it out.
"Ben says he'll meet me here in an hour," she told Connie.
Her friend flashed a knowing smile. "I remember when Rob and I were hot and heavy. Before we got married, that man would meet me anywhere, anytime. It's a little different now," she said with a wink. "You should enjoy it while it lasts."
"But you and Rob seem so happy," Mae protested. "He'd still do anything for you."
Connie reached out her hand to pat Mae's shoulder, her diamond ring sparkling in the firelight of the cozy room. "He would, sugar, you're right. He'd also like me to be home starting dinner right now. And I need to pick the kids up from Mama's, so we should order a glass of wine before I have to go. Do you have Matthew this week?" She glanced at the waiter.
"No, he's with Katie for the next few days." Mae picked up the wine list from the coffee table in front of her. "This Pinot Noir looks good. I'll just get the bottle, and Ben and I can finish it up with our dinner when he gets here. Number one thirty-two, please," she told the hovering waiter with a smile, "and two glasses."
Connie pressed her credit card into the man's hand. "This is on me."
She started to protest, but Connie was firm. "You're my client today." She took her phone out of her elegant black purse, started the video, and handed it to Mae. "Do you think this house is suitable for the movie?" Mae watched the video in silence, trying to distance herself from the memories of Noah that the old house had evoked. "I do," Mae said, glancing at her friend when the video was done. "They'll probably need to modify it a little, but it should work just fine."
Connie pursed her lips and nodded. "You've always been so visual. I think the place is a dump, but if you can picture it, I'm sure it'll be good."
Half an hour later, there was a brief commotion at the front door. Mae heard her fiancé's deep voice rumbling in counterpoint to giggles from Lisa, the owner.
"She's in the back room by the fireplace, Sheriff," Lisa said. The floorboards of the old building creaked and shifted under Ben's boots as he came around the corner. He paused in the doorway, gave her a wink, and called over his shoulder, "I see her. She's right by the fire with a waiter pouring her a glass of wine."
Handsome in his Rose County Sheriff's uniform, Ben swiftly crossed the room, kissed Mae on the cheek, and dropped onto the sofa beside her, regarding Connie with a friendly smile.
"Off duty, Sheriff?" Connie batted her lashes, defaulting to Southern belle mode. At Ben's nod, she asked the waiter for another glass for "Rosedale's finest."
"I'm surprised you got here so fast." Mae leaned into Ben's shoulder, inhaling the fresh smell of outdoors that clung to his jacket, along with a hint of cologne.
He put his arm around her. "Yeah, they don't need me hanging around the office today. I'm happy to report that Rosedale is crime free at the moment. My staff wanted me out of their hair, so I left early." He took the glass of wine the waiter filled for him and lifted it with a questioning glance at Mae and her friend. "What should we toast to?"
Connie clinked her glass against Ben's, including Mae in her grin. "Here's to love, happiness, and real estate commissions!"
Mae raised her glass and took a sip, feeling the wine warm her throat as it went down. "That old house at the end of our street is going to be famous," she told Ben, pushing aside her misgivings. "It's perfect for the movie."
After Connie left to retrieve her children, Ben moved to the opposite sofa, facing Mae. "You're quiet today," he said, cocking his head and narrowing his blue eyes. "You okay?"
She busied herself with spreading the napkin across her lap and glancing through the menu. "I'm fine. Do you want to share a salad and one of the pizzas?"
"That sounds perfect." He paused. "But you don't."
Mae looked across the table at him. "I don't what?" "Sound perfect. Or even good, for that matter. And I may not be the world's best fiancé, but even I know to worry when you say I'm fine. Do you want to talk about it?"
Mae put down her menu, blinked back tears, and cleared her throat. "Did I ever tell you that Noah was friends with the guys who used to rent that old house?"
The waiter appeared beside Ben, who quickly ordered the Margherita pizza with prosciutto added and a Caesar salad. After the waiter's departure, he shook his head. "I don't think you mentioned it."
"A couple of wannabe musicians rented it then. Noah used to go over there, and they'd try out new songs, play some old stuff — just hang out. My uncle went along sometimes. I did too, now and then."
"Not too often, I hope." Ben frowned. "That place has a bad reputation."
Mae was startled. "The last time I was there was a few months before Noah died. I never heard anything bad about the house, though. What do you mean?"
"I heard rumors about drug dealing." Ben gave her a serious look. "Trey Cantrell used to own it. I don't know if he still does."
"Sheriff Cantrell owned that house? But he wouldn't put up with drug dealers. That doesn't make sense."
Ben raised his eyebrows, but kept quiet as the waiter put their salad down in front of them.
"Pizza will be out in a few minutes," the young man said with a smile before returning to the kitchen. They were still the only customers in the place.
"Did you ever see anything shady when you were there?"
Mae shook her head. "No, just musicians. They can be a flaky group, not always the most practical people, but I never noticed anything that made me uncomfortable." She looked down at her lap, then back up into Ben's watchful eyes. "It just ... brought back a lot of memories, being there today."
Her fiancé was making steady inroads on his half of the salad, without taking his eyes off her. "Are you sure that house is right for the movie location, Mae?"
"I am, but there's no reason either of us needs to spend any time there, right?" She took a bite of crisp romaine lettuce and garlic dressing, giving Ben a reassuring look.
"That's right," he said quietly. "We ... and especially you don't."
Suzanne swung her feet out from under the blankets, and with some trepidation, put them down on the cold wooden floor. She pushed her short dark hair back from her forehead and glanced at the empty bed. Her husband Don was already up. She could hear him whistling in the kitchen. Probably making pancakes. It was one of the few dishes he knew how to prepare. The landline in the kitchen was ringing.
"Hello," she heard her husband say cheerfully. "Sure, hang on a minute, I'll get her. Suzanne," he hollered, "it's Dory." After managing the sheriff's office for twenty-plus years, Dory Clarkson was now an investigator. Suzanne and Dory had been good friends for decades.
"Tell her I'll call her back," Suzanne said. "I want to take a shower first."
She heard Don giving Dory the message. Then he called out again, "She says it concerns your column this week. Something you need to do right away this morning."
Cripes. She reached for her robe, stepped over their two small Jack Russell terriers who were tussling with each other, and walked down the hall. Her oldest daughter July, who was a designer, had supervised the remodeling of their kitchen and living room. Suzanne was pleased with the outcome, but Don continued to grumble about the loss of his old La-Z-Boy chair. July was still looking for a replacement. It had to be leather, apparently.
The kitchen, though, had been an immediate hit with Don. As she walked in, she saw that he was wearing a frilly white apron over his blue jeans and stirring pancake batter. She stifled a grin. Dropping blueberries into the bowl, he motioned at the phone lying on the gray and white marble surface of their new kitchen island and inclined his head toward the coffee maker.
Suzanne picked up the phone. "Hi, Dory."
Excerpted from "Six Dogs 'Til Sunday"
Copyright © 2018 Lia Farrell.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
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