Missy is shocked when she sees the asking price for the Sweetwater mansion . . . in a good way. With business thriving at Crowning Glory, it would be nice to set up shop surrounded by alabaster columns and gleaming mahogany. The Southern connections only deepen when it turns out the real estate agent is Mellette Babineaux, a college classmate and sorority sister. But when Missy drags her best friend Bo along to the mansion for a second look, they barely make it past the live oaks before they discover Mellette’s dead body in a shed. Now, for the sake of her college friend, Missy finds herself investigating everyone from a superstitious Cajun caretaker to a Rolls Royce-driving billionaire—and finding that lots of closet space can mean lots of skeletons, too . . .
SOMETHING FOUL AT SWEETWATER
About the Author
Sandra earned a journalism degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and she spent many years writing for newspapers and magazines. Readers can visit her website at SandraBretting.com.
Read an Excerpt
Something Foul at Sweetwater
By Sandra Bretting
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Sandra Bretting
All rights reserved.
Heaven only knows I should have brought back a tote sack full of beignets that day, like I'd planned, and not a sales flyer for the old Sweetwater mansion down the road.
But how could I resist something so full up on Southern charm first thing in the morning? Especially when I rounded the last curve before Dippin' Donuts and saw a For Sale sign waving at me from the property's front lawn, like a friendly neighbor saying hey.
I swerved off the road, my tires spitting pea gravel and chalk dust, for a better look. Ever since I moved to Louisiana to open a hat shop, about a year and a half ago now, I'd been mesmerized by the antebellum mansions that seemed to sprout from the soil here every so often, like elegant daylilies planted in the sugarcane fields by mistake.
This particular mansion sat high on a hill. Two regiments of live oaks lined the front walk, their limbs bearded in wispy Spanish moss and their branches arching until the boughs touched. Beyond this leafy keyhole sat the mansion, which was held aloft by at least half a dozen alabaster columns. Bright August sun glanced off a column to the east, as if God wanted to shine a spotlight there, while the rest of the pillars patiently awaited their turns.
Best of all, a Plexiglas box full of flyers rested against the For Sale sign. My granddaddy always said it didn't cost nuthin' to look, so I scrambled out of my VW and retrieved a flyer, which was written in fancy cursive type:
Historic mansion for sale. Built in 1850. Jewel in the rough!
Which was all well and good, but not the most important thing. I found that two paragraphs later:
Owners willing to finance. $250,000.
Well, that couldn't be right. A house this grand — surely on the National Register of Historic Places and surely as pretty inside as out — should go for double or triple that amount. A builder would kill for the columns alone, not to mention the expensive iron railing that curled along a widow's walk on high.
Between all that and a wide plank veranda that circled the ground floor like a hoop skirt, the flyer must be lying.
Ambrose needed to see this. Given my best friend was already at his design studio and waiting for me to bring him some beignets, though, I'd have to choose my words carefully and not go running off at the mouth. I dialed his cell and patiently waited through a few rings.
"Hi, Missy. What's wrong?"
Unfortunately, that was the greeting you got when you'd called your best friend so early on a Monday morning. "Nothing's wrong. Any chance you're up for a little drive?"
"Why?" A suspicious pause. "You didn't run out of gas again, did you?"
"No, nothing like that. I was driving along, minding my p's and q's, when I saw that old mansion on the road to the doughnut store. You remember the one? Only now it's got a For Sale sign in the front yard, and I'm pretty sure it's a sign from heaven."
His sigh said more than any words could. "Missy, everyone knows those old houses eat money. Best thing you can do is walk away."
That was my Ambrose — practical to a T. Whereas I believed more was more and never less, Ambrose was of a different mind. Bless his heart.
In Bo's defense, he couldn't see the forest-green shutters that book-ended perfectly spaced windows or the attic dormers that gazed over the manicured lawn with obvious approval or how the whole shebang culminated in an actual widow's walk. Breathtaking, it was. Simply breathtaking.
"That's the thing." I added my own pause for special effect. "The price is right here on the flyer. Could be a typo, but it's a sight less than what they charge for new houses around here."
"Missy." Out came the voice he used when he tried to protect me from myself. "Think about it. Do you know how much it'd cost to cool a place like that all summer?"
"No." I hadn't even considered the more practical matters, like air-conditioning or heaters or keeping the grass green. "Wait a minute. Someone walked out on the front porch. Wonder if they'll let me in?"
"Gotta run. Meet me back at the rent house," I said.
Ambrose and I shared what the locals called a "rent house" down the road, although one day I hoped we'd share a whole lot more.
I tucked the cell into my skirt pocket and hurried up the lawn. "You-hoo! You there."
The stranger froze. Judging by the crook of her pale neck and a wispy ponytail she'd feathered over one shoulder — which reminded me of the silvered moss — the old gal was about eighty or so.
"Are you the owner?" My voice boomed in the morning quiet, but I didn't want the stranger to hightail it back inside before we could speak. "I see it's for sale. I'm renting a house down the road with my best friend, and I've driven by your property a thousand times."
I was rambling, but by this time, it'd be plum rude of her not to acknowledge me. That was why what happened next startled me so. Instead of giving me a proper greeting and ushering me inside the house, like any good Southerner would, this old gal turned tail and ran back through the door lickety-split, as if I'd waved a Smith & Wesson high in the air and not a real-estate flyer.
Well, I never. Southern hospitality, my foot!
I stalked to the front door and began to knock, since I never did truck with bad manners. It swung open after a moment, but only because it was manned by someone new. This woman looked to be about my age — or as I liked to say, on the north side of thirty — and she wore a green business suit with matching shoes. Her face seemed vaguely familiar.
"I'm sorry about Ruby," she said.
"I should hope so." It wasn't this woman's fault I'd run into the rudest person I'd yet to meet in Louisiana, but the old gal had wounded my pride. "I only want to peek inside."
"Of course you do. Come on in."
The stranger waved me in, which caused a tangle of bracelets on her wrist to jingle like wind chimes. "Sorry again about Ruby."
The sting of the slight faded, though, the minute I walked through the front door. Hardwood floors glimmered beneath my feet like still water on a bayou, and the walls wore rich panels of striated mahogany. A needlepoint tapestry of herons two-stepping somewhere in the Gulf covered an entire wall, the gentle S curve of the birds' necks like a wavy line of sea foam.
"It's so beautiful!" I said.
"The house was built in 1850. That's before the Civil War."
Slowly my eyes adjusted to the dim light. "I know all about these old mansions."
I'd been hired to work for a bride at one of them some six months back. Unfortunately, I ended up smack-dab in the middle of a crime-scene investigation before everything got put to rights again, but I ended up loving the mansion even so.
Now small details began to emerge from the furnishings around me. Bits of silk dangled from the tapestry's hem like marsh grass, the baseboards beneath it wore decades of scuff marks, and even the front door didn't quite meet up with its frame. No matter.
"A wedding planner hired me for a ceremony at Morningside Plantation," I said. "'Course, this mansion's a lot smaller, but that's just as well. I never thought people actually sold these old houses."
"Well, you're lucky. This one's owned by a trust and they're in a hurry to get rid of it. Are you interested? I'm the Realtor here. Name's Mellette. Mellette Babineaux."
She thrust out her hand, which set off the bracelets again and also called up the smell of menthol cigarettes.
"Why ... I know you." I shook her hand, amazed to meet someone from my past right here in Louisiana. "I'm Missy DuBois. You went to Vanderbilt, right?"
"I did indeed. Thank goodness for those academic scholarships."
"But you were in a sorority too. Weren't you were the chapter president of Pi Phi? I was a coupla years behind you."
She seemed pleased to be recognized. "Ain't that the berries! We're sorority sisters. My godmother paid for that, hallelujah."
"Do you ever get back to Nashville?" I asked.
"'Fraid not. Work keeps me too busy. You?"
"The same. I still have T-shirts from the parties, though. Boxes and boxes of them. Can't quite make myself toss 'em in the garbage."
She smiled wistfully. "I only bought a few. What did you say your name is again?"
"Missy. Missy DuBois. I moved to town about a year and a half ago."
Her eyes widened. "Are you the gal who opened a hat shop in town? People told me that store wouldn't last more than six months, but look at you! It's been a sight longer and it seems to be going great guns. Amazing we haven't met before now."
"Well, not to brag, but Crowning Glory turned a year old at Christmas." Which felt wonderful to be able to say. When I found out Southern plantations all along the Great River Road attracted brides like flies to honey, I set myself up making hats, veils, and whatnot for wedding parties. Ambrose owned the shop next to mine, where he made custom gowns for brides and their maids.
"You're gonna make us all proud," she said. "Maybe you could speak to our alumnae group sometime. We meet once a month at the Junior League."
I was about to respond when the older woman who'd been so rude to me earlier emerged from the shadows.
"There you are," Mellette said. "Ruby here is the caretaker. Unfortunately, today's Monday. You know what that means, don't you?"
I racked my brain but came up empty. "Can't say that I do."
"It's bad luck to be visited by a woman first thing on Monday morning," she said. "In some parts of the bayou, that is. Silly superstition, if you ask me. As if that would make a difference."
Ruby quickly cut her eyes at Mellette. "Ya bes' not be sayin' dat, madam."
Why, I'd know a Cajun accent anywhere. I'd met a gardener at a wedding a few months back who stretched out his vowels like this old gal.
"You must be Cajun," I said. "French Creole, right?"
"Born in des parish."
Before I could speak again, Mellette turned.
"Where are my manners? Ruby, go get our guest some sweet tea. This humidity is going to be the death of us all. Guess we should expect as much come August."
When Ruby didn't hop to it, Mellette's smile hardened. "Today, preferably."
That made the old woman finally back away, but not before she cut her eyes at the real estate agent.
"That one's a pill," Mellette said, once Ruby was gone. "Wouldn't be surprised if she's got a voodoo doll back at her house that looks exactly like me. Bless her heart. Now, let's start in the drawing room and we'll work our way up."
I followed along as Mellette led me from one room to the next. The rooms were small by today's standards and desperate for some fresh paint and spackle, but other than that, I couldn't see any major flaws. And thick crown molding covered the walls, not to mention cut-crystal wall sconces that reflected light onto them like dusty diamonds.
"I have to ask." I couldn't hold my tongue any longer. "Why the low price? It should go for double or triple that amount."
"There's a bit of work to be done." Mellette shrugged. "And there's been some talk about voodoo ceremonies or some such. Not that this particular mansion had slaves, mind you, because it didn't."
Funny she felt the need to answer a question I hadn't even asked. After a bit, we wandered back to the staircase, where Ruby finally stood with my tumbler of sweet tea.
"That voodoo's all nonsense. Right, Ruby?" Mellette asked.
"If'n ya say so." Ruby handed me the sweating tumbler. "Nobody be doin' dat stuff 'round here no more."
"Well, that's good." I accepted the tumbler and took a sip. Just the way I liked it ... as sweet as honeysuckle. "Although it's hard to imagine why they'd pick somewhere so pretty to do it in the first place."
"Da place don' much matter, missus. It's all in da charms. Wot ya can do wit' da amulets an such."
"Ruby, you know that's a bunch of hooey," Mellette said. "Let's not give Missy here any crazy ideas, okay?"
It's a little too late for that. "So, when's the last time they had one of those voodoo things around here?"
"Years. Decades." Mellette tried to sound nonchalant, but her pinched face gave her away. "The house has been vacant for many years now. That's why the trust is selling it. They know it needs work, but the heirs don't want to keep it, so it's ripe for the picking. Did I mention there's even a studio out back?"
"You don't say." I followed her gaze to the window. "What kind of studio?"
"Look." She pointed to a whitewashed cottage that lay just beyond the glass. Pink swamp roses ambled over a pitched roofline, and purple verbena ran wild through an abandoned vegetable bed meant to hold carrots or cabbage. I fully expected seven dwarfs to emerge from the bottom of the Dutch door with pickaxes slung over their shoulders.
"It's a great place for someone to work on projects," Mellette said. "There are sweet little hidey-holes like that all over this place."
My heavenly days. The cottage would be perfect for a design studio! Even though the roof sagged some and the door was all catawampus, I could block and stitch and steam hats out there to my heart's content.
"Yep, imagine all the privacy you'd have," she added.
"You can say that again! But I need to talk to my best friend first. Maybe bring him out here for a tour. I trust his opinion on everything."
"Fine by me," she said. "But I suggest you get a move on if you want this place. Someone's bound to come along and scoop it up."
No doubt she was right. Places like this only came along but once in a blue moon. Maybe I could convince Ambrose to come over and tour the house with me and then I could bend his ear about all the wonderful ways we'd renovate it.
Although the morning had gotten off to a sour start, something great might come of it yet.CHAPTER 2
If the way to a man's heart was through his stomach, then everything I needed lay in a greasy bag of beignets I'd placed on the car seat next to me. One taste of that powdered sugar and choux paste and Ambrose would say yes to anything I proposed. Even to buying a derelict mansion so we could renovate it side by side.
My VW pitched and rumbled on the journey home, the sack of beignets bouncing along. Compared to Sweetwater, the little rent house we shared up ahead looked tiny.
Tiny, but quaint. It had bubblegum-pink walls and a used-brick fireplace, and it reminded me of something Barbie would own if she and Ken ever settled in the deep South. Best of all, I'd planted bee balm next to the front gate when we first moved in, and now hummingbirds and butterflies flitted around the place in abundance. I passed several as I made my way through the gate and into the house.
I slowed as I approached the kitchen. Here, sunshine warmed the butter-cream-yellow walls and splashed across a farmhouse table that went back two generations. That was where I found Ambrose, hunched over a plate of scrambled eggs and Jimmy Dean sausage.
"Look at you," I said. "And here I thought you'd starve to death."
His knife clattered onto the plate. "Hey, there. Where've you been? I thought we'd meet up an hour ago."
Today he wore my favorite polo: the lapis one that brought out his eyes. As we said down South, "I can't-never-could" resist a man with long eyelashes, and his reminded me of Bambi's.
"Here's the thing." Our farmhouse table had benches instead of chairs, so I plopped down next to him and laid the beignets between us. "I got to tour the Sweetwater mansion with a real estate agent. Boy, did I learn a thing or two."
"That so?" To be honest, his beautiful eyes kept leaving my face to scope out the oily sack on the table.
"It goes all the way back before the Civil War. Turns out a trust owns it, and they're looking to sell cheap. Do you know they only want two hundred and fifty thousand dollars for it? Never in my life did I think a house like that could be so inexpensive."
"Does it have a roof?"
I shot him a look. "Of course it has a roof. You've seen it. And real hardwood floors on the inside. Looked like mahogany to me. Point is, someone could fix up that place like nobody's business if they had half a mind to do it."
"So it's falling down, right? Maybe that's why they don't want very much for it. Sounds like a lot of maintenance to me."
If there was one thing my Ambrose was allergic to, it was maintenance. Didn't much matter if it involved our shops back in town, this old rent house or his brand-new Audi Quattro. He had a hard time looking beyond the elbow grease. Whereas I was the exact opposite. Give me a paintbrush, a rotary sander, and a crescent wrench, and I was happier than a dead pig in the sunshine.
"But you've always told me it's good to have a hobby," I said. "This is something we can do together, now that our businesses have taken off."
Excerpted from Something Foul at Sweetwater by Sandra Bretting. Copyright © 2016 Sandra Bretting. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed the book. Missy is a little too nosy for me and seems to interject herself into an investigation before being asked. I love the relationship she has with Ambrose. I wish them well!
Bretting nails southern charm in this second book in the Missy DuBois mystery series. This is such a fun and sweet read even if you have not read the first book in this series. She does an excellent job of bringing back some of the best characters from the first book, which is fun for someone like me who started with book one. For new readers she shares details from the first story that will make you want to go back and read it. I loved all of Missy's funny southern sayings. They really grow on you and I found myself waiting to see what she would say next. In the first book we find out that Missy has feelings for her best friend and roommate and that storyline plays out in greater detail in this book. I found myself really rooting for these two. Their chemistry is undeniable. The mystery element to this book was very good and had me second guessing myself every time I thought I was close to figuring it out. I really enjoyed the variety of characters Bretting introduces. Any one of them could potentially be a suspect and in the next moment it seems there is no way it could be them. I will most certainly be following Missy on her next adventure and look forward to seeing how her relationship grows in future installments.
Missy DuBois is a hat maker and wedding veil in sultry state of Louisiana. While driving home with a heavenly sack of beignets for her best friend and roommate, Ambrose "Bo", Missy stumbles a beautiful old antebellum mansion for sale. She is smitten with the home and unbelievable low price and decides to inquire about the property. When she discovers that the realtor is a former sorority sister and becomes interested in purchasing the property, Missy heads off to find her buddy Bo to try and convince him that they must buy this belle of a home. However, Bo and Missy attempt to find the realtor and the caretaker once again only to discover the poor realtor dead in a potting shed. There are many sides and revelations about the owners, property, and potential suspects that will leave you relentless about putting this charming new cozy mystery down. A must read! I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my review. All comments and recommendations about this book are solely my own.
Missy DuBois owns a hat shop in south Louisiana. When she walks by a plantation house and notices that it has just gone up for sale. Missy has wanted to own a plantation house and looks inside and brings her friend, Bo, back to look at it again with her they discover the realtor murdered. The realtor is a sorority sister of Missy so she decides she needs to find the killer. This book will keep you guessing till the end on who the killer is. I was totally surprised. I use to live in Louisiana and I could definitely relate to this book. I had it read in day. I will definitely continue with this series and go back and read the first book. This book was given to me in exchange for an honest review.
A thoroughly delightful book packed with southern charm. It's the second book in the series; however , it's the first I have read. The author did a great job of making sure all the characters backrounds were included, so it was very easy to fall into the story. The mystery was very good. I really liked Missy's friendship with Lance, the investigator of the murder. They are old friends, and he let her help with the case. If I had one complaint, it would be that I wished there were a few more suspects. There were a good amount, but I feel like Missy didn't really look into many of them. I loved how we got to see Missy working. We know she's a hat designer, and it was nice to see her work her magic. I also enjoyed the Louisiana setting. It was always apparent that that is where they are. I look foward to reading the next book! I received a free copy of this book, and have voluntarily left a review. All opinions expressed her are my own.
Sandra Bretting's Something Foul at Sweetwater This story takes us into Louisiana where Missy DuBois, milliner and her best friend Ambrose 'Bo' Jackson who design wedding dresses are settling. On the way to work one morning Missy discovers that an old pre-Civil War mansion called Sweetwater is for sale. She also discovers that the real estate agent, Mellette Babineaux is one of her sorority sisters. Returning later in the day with Ambrose to look at Sweetwater, they find Mellette dead!!!! Missy is ready to jump into the investigation to try to figure out how and who killed Mellette. The characters are vivid, colorful and well defined. There is an array of suspects to eliminate. Come along with Missy as she ventures into the bayou, meets some of the the river people, finds out about voodoo and gets to see at voodoo ceremony at Sweetwater. Captivating writing, vivid description, thrills and chills make this a fun read. This is the second book in A Missy DuBois Mystery series. It can be read as a stand alone. I volunteered to read an advance copy of the book. Thanks to author via the Cozy Mystery Review Crew for the book. My opinion is my own.
Book 2 in the Missy DuBois Mystery series. Missy is a delight. I especially love the southern voice that instantly enters your mind when reading the book. Her best friend, Ambrose, is so much fun! I was definitely kept guessing throughout the book, the identity of the killer was a surprise. Something Foul at Sweetwater was a quick and delightful read. The book is not too long, but you will be entertained with it's southern charm and wit. I received an advanced copy in exchange for my honest review and opinion.