“Well-drawn characters, a dash of romance, and enough logically constructed red herrings to keep the reader guessing right up to the end distinguish this tightly woven tale.” – Publishers Weekly
Ava Logan, single mother and small business owner, lives deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, where poverty and pride reign. As publisher of the town newspaper, she’s busy balancing election season stories and a rash of ginseng thieves. And then the story gets personal. After her friend is murdered, Ava digs for the truth all the while juggling her two teenage children, her friend’s orphaned toddler, and her own muddied past. Faced with threats against those closest to her, Ava must find the killer before she, or someone she loves, ends up dead.
“A well-wrought tale of the secrets concealed beneath the surface of small-town Appalachia...Willis is a seasoned professional who gives us just enough red herrings to keep us guessing to the end.” – Margaret Maron, New York Times Bestselling Author of Long Upon the Land
“The first in Willis’ planned series mixes murder and romance with enough suspects to keep you guessing.” – Kirkus Reviews
“A page-turning balance of small town life and an unsolvable mystery with characters we wish we knew for real. Tell Me No Lies is a mystery that will not disappoint.” – C. Hope Clark, Author of Echoes of Edisto
“Willis brings to life not only the beauty of the Appalachia, but also the crippling poverty that can and does cause people to resort to terrible things.” – For the Love of Books
Books in the Ava Logan Mystery Series:
- TELL ME NO LIES (#1)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all…
Author Bio: Lynn Chandler Willis has worked in the corporate world, the television industry, and owned a small-town newspaper (much like Ava Logan). She’s lived in North Carolina her entire life and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Her novel, a Shamus Award finalist, Wink of an Eye, (Minotaur, 2014) won the SMP/PWA Best 1st PI Novel competition, making her the first woman in a decade to win the national contest. Her debut novel, The Rising, (Harbourlight, 2013) won the Grace Award for Excellence in Faith-based Fiction. Tell Me No Lies is the first title in the Ava Logan Mystery Series from Henery Press.
About the Author
LYNN CHANDLER WILLIS is the first woman to win the PWA Competition in over 10 years. She has worked in the corporate world, the television news business, and the newspaper industry. She was born, raised, and continues to live in the heart of North Carolina within walking distance of her children and their spouses and her nine grandchildren. She shares her home, and heart, with Sam the cocker spaniel. She lives in Randleman, North Carolina.
Read an Excerpt
My husband bled out while a quarreling couple argued over where the boyfriend spent his paycheck. No one held Tommy's hand and lied to him, telling him everything would be alright. No one prayed over him or asked if his heart was right with the Lord. No one told him his wife and two small kids would be taken care of. I've often wondered if he thought of us in those last few breaths.
That day, the one day Tommy left his vest in the patrol car, a bullet severed his aorta and shredded his chest during a domestic disturbance call. Our son, Cole, was five. His little sister, Emma, was two weeks shy of her second birthday.
Tommy's been dead ten years today. The kids and I took flowers to his grave in an outdated gesture of remembrance. Truth is, Emma only knew him through old photos and Cole's most vivid memory of his father was his uniform. So there we were at his grave site, each wondering how long is long enough to stand there pretending to read the headstone we've read a thousand times. Thomas Coleman Logan, loving husband to Ava, proud father to Cole and Emma, brave officer. Killed in the line of duty.
He was buried in Jackson Creek Friends Meeting cemetery because it was his mother's church. She insisted. All in all, it was okay because we, as a couple, hadn't thought that far ahead and bought our own plots. We weren't even thirty yet. We were going to live forever.
I sat the basket of scarlet chrysanthemums at the foot of the granite headstone. The collection of autumn-colored flowers placed at the graves brought life to the tiny cemetery. The lemon yellows and blaze orange flora matched the leaves the surrounding Appalachian Mountains displayed, connecting the ever changing to the frozen in time.
Emma quietly shushed Ivy's singing, like she was afraid the dead wouldn't approve. She insisted on carrying Ivy herself and now adjusted the toddler on her hip. "She's getting heavy," she whispered to me.
I took her from Emma, letting her stand beside me, holding tight to her chubby hand.
Ivy wasn't mine. She belonged to my friend Trish, who had asked me to keep the tot overnight. I hadn't asked why. As a single mom myself, I knew why. Just not the who.
"Can we go now?" Cole's impatience grew with each teenage sigh. He'd paid his respects to his dead father and now itched to hit the hiking trail. Truth be told, I did too. It'd been over a month since the three of us had spent time together on a trail.
"Sure." Before I could offer a group hug, they were headed back to the car. I envied the easy way they let go of the mourning, and the guilt. But the guilt was never theirs. It was mine and mine alone.
By the time I got back to the Tahoe, Cole and Emma were buckled in. Emma sang along with Ivy's rendition of "Wheels on the Bus," complete with rolling hand movements.
"What if Trish's not home?" Cole asked. "What are we going to do with Ivy?"
"She'll be home. That was one of the conditions made on babysitting Ivy — that I would drop her off by nine so we could hit the trail early."
That seemed to satisfy his worry that we'd be lugging a two-year-old with us up to Porter's Peak. The trail, winding through Jefferson Mountain, boasted a few steep inclines a toddler's legs couldn't handle. On the other end of the spectrum, at thirty-five, mine barely could.
I pulled away from the church and its dead, heading out of Jackson Creek. Nestled deep in the northwestern part of North Carolina known as the High Country, most of Jackson Creek sat in a valley surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was the second week of October in an election year. Campaign signs were a common distraction.
It was prime time for the newspaper business too. Ad revenue for the month of October tripled. There were members of the Board of County Commissioners, Town Council, school board, district judges, and even the sheriff spending money with me and The Jackson Creek Chronicle. As the owner and publisher of the town's only newspaper, they hated me when I divulged their dirty little secrets, but they loved me when they needed me.
A few minutes after leaving the church, I turned onto the unpaved road leading to Trish's rented single-wide mobile home. The tires bit at the sparse gravel, sending chunks of rock and rich dirt into dust-filled plumes.
Trish's older model SUV sat parked at the end of the drive. "See, I told you she'd be home." I treated Cole to a motherly grin.
Ivy clapped her chubby hands while saying, "my housh" over and over again. The toddler defined cute. Sandy blonde hair that fell just below her shoulders in upturned waves, eyes the color of emeralds with lashes long enough to sweep the floor, and cheeks full of adorable chubbiness. I had no idea who fathered Ivy so couldn't say what he donated to her gene pool, but I'd swear under oath she got her smile from her mother. Trish's smile was a gift from God, natural, not the kind you saw on magazine covers.
I parked behind Trish's SUV then lifted Ivy from her car seat and propped her on my hip. "Cole, will you put her car seat in Trish's backseat?"
Ivy pointed a chubby finger at her housh. "Mommy?"
"Yep, you're going to see Mommy."
I climbed the three concrete steps and knocked on the front door. It partially opened from the knock. Ivy squirmed to get down. Just as I put her down inside the door, I remembered her overnight bag still in the Tahoe. "Cole, can you bring me her bag?"
Stepping inside, the odor smacked me so hard I could taste it. Vile and coppery. I covered my mouth and nose to keep from gagging then fought against it hard and called for Trish. My heart quickened as I called again, this time more urgent.
My eyes followed a trail of blood running from the front door through the kitchen, disappearing around the corner. It marred the cheap carpet and pooled on the kitchen linoleum, glossy and slick.
Ivy toddled through the kitchen, oblivious to her tiny shoes smearing the blood. "Mommy."
My heart beat faster, gaining speed with each rancid breath. Ivy was walking right into whatever lurked around the corner. Adrenaline pummeled my fear. "Ivy! No!" I bolted toward her, skittering in the slick blood on the kitchen floor. Rounding the corner to the hallway, I jerked her up into my arms, shielding her eyes from the ghastly sight.
She squirmed against me, crying for her mommy. I wanted to cry too, but the shock overtook the sorrow. My heart lodged in my throat, stealing my breath.
Trish was on her back in the hallway, her arms and legs splaying in different directions. Her once-beautiful face was now a gorged-out cavity of bone and tissue. Blood pooled around her body.
Ivy fought against the confinement of my chest, babbling for her mommy, not understanding her mommy would never answer. "Shhh, baby. Shhh. It's going to be alright," I lied. My stomach lurched. I rushed outside, my heart ready to explode.
I fled down the front steps, Ivy's confused cries echoing in my ears. In the yard, I shoved Ivy at Cole, screaming for him to take her, then sank to my knees and vomited.
Emma was out of the Tahoe and running toward me. "Mom!" She stared in horror at my bloody shoes, and the tiny bloody shoeprints staining my shirt from where I'd held Ivy against me. "Oh ... my ... God. Mom, what happened?"
Breathless, I barely managed to speak. "My phone. Bring my phone."
"Mom, where's Trish?" Emma spoke in a low hushed tone, like she had at the graveyard. Maybe she knew the answer to her own question.
Cole hurried over, still clutching Ivy. He passed me my phone. "Are you gonna call 911?" His ragged voice betrayed his age, making him sound much younger.
I looked at the house and wondered if I should go back in. Maybe, despite how bad it looked, Trish was still alive. Maybe she was aware of what was going on around her. Tommy died with no one holding his hand.
"Watch Ivy. And stay here." I leapt up and ran back to the house, not knowing if anything could be done, or what to do if there was.
Back into the trailer, I steeled my nerves for Trish's sake. I moved carefully to avoid slipping in the blood then knelt beside her. Swallowing the sour taste filling my throat, I wrapped my hand around her wrist and concentrated on finding even a hint of a pulse. Her arm was already rigid.
"Holy shit ..." Cole said from behind me. "That's not an accident, Mom."
I stood and pushed him down the hall, away from the sight nightmares are made of. My bloody handprints stained his shirt. "I told you to stay put."
Outside, glad for a cell signal, I punched in 911. I sucked in a deep breath, then spoke slowly when the call connected. "This is Ava Logan. We need the sheriff's department."
"Ava? Hey, it's Cheryl. Do you know the address?"
"Um ... it's Trish Givens' trailer, off Mountain Laurel Drive. It's the first trailer on the right. There's been a —" I didn't know what to call it. Murder, a foreign word around these parts. "There's been an accident. We need an ambulance. And the sheriff's department."
Cheryl Stafford was good at her job, but she was also involved with a little of everything in Jackson Creek. I used her often as a source for the Chronicle. She was also a bit of a gossip, so this story would be all over town before it ever went to print.
"Okay, the EMT is en route and the sheriff's department has been notified," Cheryl said. "Did you try CPR?"
I glanced over my shoulder, wishing beyond hope there was something that could be done. All the while knowing the only thing to do now was comfort my children and precious little Ivy. "It's beyond CPR, Cheryl."
After gathering my kids and Ivy, we sat in the yard. Morning dew dampened our jeans. I pulled Ivy into my lap. In the distance, the wail of a siren grew louder.CHAPTER 2
Two hours had passed since I had found Trish's body. The adrenaline was long gone and had been replaced with exhaustion. My shoulders ached from the weight of the stress. Dr. Bosher Garrett, the Jackson County Medical Examiner, was still in the trailer doing his initial workup. Cole and Emma sat a couple feet apart on the ground nearby with enough distance between them to limit conversation. Ivy played nearby as a bored-looking deputy babysat all three. I leaned against a patrol car and fought off ten-year-old memories of a younger Bosher Garrett pronouncing my husband dead.
Trish's yard had become a parking lot for sheriff's department cars and EMT vehicles. Those that couldn't fit into the yard parked along the gravel road. The front driver's side tire of the transport van that would carry her body to the morgue had bumped her decorative scarecrow, knocking it over the seasonal bale of hay. It lay there on the hay in an awkward pose, its lifeless eyes staring at gray clouds that threatened rain.
At least it still had eyes.
I turned away from the reminder and watched Sheriff Grayson Ridge in the doorway of Trish's trailer. Detective Steve Sullivan appeared to be filling him in on the details. Sullivan would bob his head every now and then in my direction, followed by a nod from Ridge. The sheriff gave a final nod then headed down the steps towards me.
As far as sheriffs go, Ridge was young. He was finishing his first term at thirty-seven. He had been Tommy's patrol partner when Tommy was killed. He was on vacation that day.
He walked toward the deputy babysitting my kids and Ivy, told him something, then squatted in front of Emma. He lightly touched her hair. She smiled.
My kids adored Grayson Ridge. After Tommy's death, he was their rock. His arms, their security blankets. He had coached Cole's Little League baseball team and Emma's soccer. He taught Cole how to shoot and handle a gun. Taught Emma how to fish. With all the interest in my kids, the rumors started flying, and I pushed Ridge away.
He dated the occasional eye candy to combat loneliness or more primal needs but had yet to put a ring on it. He was even named Jackson County's most eligible bachelor two years in a row in a charity auction event.
That was all a long time ago. Memories, both good and bad, had laid dormant under the surface for several years. Now, he stepped over to Cole and knelt. He playfully punched my son's shoulder. After a moment of subdued conversation, Ridge stood then made his way back over to me.
"You okay?" he asked, standing beside me, his hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans.
I shrugged, afraid if I opened my mouth to speak, I'd collapse under the weight of the memories.
"So you want to tell me what happened?"
Although certain Detective Sullivan had already told him everything I'd said to him, I repeated the story, reliving the nightmare. Seeing things again in my mind I'd probably never forget. I told him about the door being partially open, about setting Ivy down inside, about the stench. About the blood trail.
"What were you doing with the baby again?"
"Trish had asked me to babysit. I told her I would."
"When did she ask you?"
I shrugged. "Tuesday maybe?"
The corner of his mouth turned upward in a small grin. "Tuesday maybe or Tuesday for sure?"
I took a moment to think about it. The kids and I had talked Tuesday morning before school about going hiking. Trish called me at the paper that same day because I remembered telling her about our hiking plans. "It was Tuesday."
"So it wasn't a spur-of-the-moment thing?" he asked.
I shook my head. "There were a few days of planning, I suppose."
He gently kicked at a rock then dug the toe of his climbing boot into the soft ground. "And she never told you what she was doing?"
"She didn't say. And I didn't ask."
He nodded, seeming to understand perfectly. "You have any idea who she was seeing?"
"No. She was a private person."
"What about the baby's father? Any idea who he is?"
I slowly shook my head. "We never talked about it."
He laughed a deep unpleasant laugh. "Oh, come on, Ava. You want me to believe you never asked her?"
I let out a breath born of frustration. "It wasn't any of my business. If she wanted me to know, she would have told me."
He stared at me with his Sinatra-blue eyes, doubt perhaps shadowing the corners. But the fact was, I had nothing to hide. I knew how it felt to be buried under a suffocating pile of rumors, so I gave Trish room. Grayson Ridge knew how it felt too. Maybe that's why he finally looked away.
"I'm going to need you to come down to the office for a formal statement. Hopefully we can get you in and out."
My stomach knotted. "Do I need to call Rick?"
His nose twitched. "In what capacity? Your boyfriend or your attorney?"
He looked away then turned back to me, his gaze heated. "You probably don't need an attorney, if that was the question."
I slowly nodded. Now was not the time for the games Ridge and I played with one another. "What about Ivy?"
He watched her play with Emma for a moment. Toddling through the grass, high-stepping as much as her chubby legs would allow. "We'll have to notify Trish's parents anyway. I'm sure they'll want the baby with them."
I couldn't take my eyes off of her. "They're four hours away. And they've only seen her once in her life."
He threw me a sideways glance. "She is their granddaughter."
I wanted so badly to smile at the way she was playing with Emma, marching around her, stomping through grass that hadn't yet died for the season. But I couldn't. My heart shattered for her instead. "Can we call Doretha and see if she can watch her for a little while? She doesn't need to be waiting at the sheriff's department until her grandparents get here."
Ridge rubbed the morning stubble shadowing his chin, considering the request. Given the circumstances, we had few options. He gazed up at the sky, at the storm clouds rolling in from the west. After a moment, he slowly nodded. "I'll have a deputy call her. It's going to be raining before long. As soon as she gets here, I'll have a deputy take you down to the station."
After talking to the deputy charged with babysitting again, Ridge walked back over to me.
An uncomfortable air settled between us, wrapping us with words unsaid. He resumed digging the toe of his boot into the ground. Finally, after several awkward moments, he took a deep breath and spit out a string of words as if they were molten lava in a volcanic mouth. "Look, Ava ... I don't think I have to tell you this is going to be a touchy one. You have every right in the world to print whatever you see fit. Obviously, you're going to know a helluva lot more about this case than information you're normally given. I'm asking you to please use good judgment in how you write this, for Trish's sake ... and that little baby's sake."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Tell Me No Lies"
Copyright © 2017 Lynn Chandler Willis.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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