Spotlight: A Killer in the Band, by Lauren Carr
Book Spotlight on: Killer in The Band
Whenever I hear the name Lauren Carr, I smile. She is one of the most vivacious authors I know, always charming, always willing to share. Whenever I hear she has a new book coming soon, the grin gets bigger, and anticipation grows.
It is already happening for her newest, Killer in the Band. First, it will continue the wonderful “Lovers in Crime” series featuring Joshua Thornton and Cameron Gates (now Thornton). The pair is a favorite of mine.
Second, you can be assured there will be dogs and perhaps a variety of other animals included in the story.
Third, there will be a suspenseful mystery to keep you guessing, romance, and Lauren’s loved humor to lighten things up.
Naturally then, we are proud to be included in her coming book tour. Today we have an article from the author herself. Coming soon will be our review and more. This one even includes an excerpt. Do join us on the tour. You will be glad you did.
And Now For The Rest Of The Story … Epilogues
By Lauren Carr
Like many authors, I send my books to what some writers call a beta reader. This is someone, very often a fellow author or editor, who simply reads your book, before editing, to determine if there are any flaws in the writing, plot holes, or excessive “darlings” that need to be killed.
Lately, Cindy, my perfect reader, will come back with the same issue. “Your epilogue is too long. As soon as they catch the killer in the last chapter, I’m done.” Ironically, I’ll say the same thing to her when I beta read her books.
Most readers are through once the bad guy or gal has been put away in the last chapter.
So, one would ask, why do writers even include an epilogue?
Logically, if the story is over when the bad guy gets caught, when the killer is revealed and brought to justice, or when the guy gets the girl, then why should a writer waste his or her time writing one more chapter.
What is an Epilogue?
An epilogue is a literary tool that acts as the afterword. It comes after the last chapter. The purpose of an epilogue is to add a little insight to some interesting developments that happen once the major plot is over. Sometimes the epilogue is used to add a little bit about the life or future of the main characters after the story itself has unfolded and wrapped up.
By comparison, it’s the one or two-minute scene that is shown after commercials at the end of the cop show where the captain comes in and announces that the DA is throwing the book at the bad guy and everyone did a good job. Then, the comic relief will do something funny and everyone laughs.
It’s difficult to talk about epilogues that I have included in my mysteries without giving away any spoilers, but I will try.
In The Lady Who Cried Murder, my epilogue consisted of a series of scenes that revealed the fate of a number of characters involved with the mystery—the point being to show how fate had served justice where man seemingly had not.
Very often, especially in mysteries, the epilogue serves as a tool to explain fine points that the reader may have missed. It’s when the detective will answer the question, “When did you know so and so was the killer?”
Since I write complex mysteries where many things are going on at once, epilogues are essential to my books. There’s always one or two loose ends that need to be tied up.
Also, sometimes, I like to provide a thought provoking discussion among my characters about something they had observed during the course of the investigation. A scene like this occurred in the epilogue of Candidate for Murder.
At over 107,000 words, Candidate for Murder is one of my longer mysteries. After completing it, before sending it to the editor, upon seeing the word count, I went back to see about trimming it down and found that there was no way to remove any part of the storyline because everything was connected.
It was at that point that I discovered that the murder case in the latest Mac Faraday mystery was literally an example of The Butterfly Effect, the chaos theory.
The Butterfly Effect is the concept that a small cause, like a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world, can have large effects, like causing a tidal wave in Japan. When looking for some way to shorten Candidate for Murder, I discovered that such was the case. David O’Callaghan nominating Gnarly the German Shepherd to run for mayor of Spencer caused a tidal wave of a mystery, with each action and reaction intricately connected.
Realizing this, I decided to include a scene in the epilogue pointing out this interesting observation, which many readers have delighted in noting themselves. This scene provided an ah-hah moment for many readers.
Nowadays, epilogues often act as a teaser trailer to any possible sequels that might come later. This is when captain comes in to announce that the bad guy broke out of jail and has posted a video on YouTube from an undisclosed location swearing that he’s going to kill the star detective and cut him up into little pieces. Then, everyone will look worried and they will cut to “To Be Continued Next Season.”
This is where I throw the remote at the television. (I hate cliffhangers!)
However, in the epilogue of my new release, Killer in the Band, I do provide a small glimpse of things to come for one of the characters. But, in no way is it a cliffhanger, because I hate cliffhangers. I know I said that before, but I really do … hate … cliffhangers.
So, next time you read a mystery, especially one of my mysteries, and you are tempted to skip the epilogue because upon discovering who the bad guy is, you think you are through—think again! You might find a little golden nugget in those last few pages.
Summer of Love & Murder
Joshua’s eldest son, Joshua “J.J.” Thornton Jr., has graduated at the top of his class from law school and returns home to spend the summer studying for the bar exam. However, to Joshua’s and Cameron’s shock and dismay, J.J. moves into the main house at Russell Ridge Farm, the largest dairy farm in the Ohio Valley, to rekindle a romance with Suellen Russell, a onetime leader of a rock group who’s twice his age. Quickly, they learn that she has been keeping a deep dark secret.
The move brings long-buried tensions between the father and son to the surface. But when a brutal killer strikes, the Lovers in Crime must set all differences aside to solve the crime before J.J. ends up in the cross hairs of a murderer.
Praise for Lauren Carr’s Mysteries:
“Lauren Carr could give Agatha Christie a run for her money!”
– Charlene Mabie-Gamble, Literary R&R
“As always, Lauren Carr brings an action-packed story that is almost impossible to put down. Her mystery plots have so many twists and turns that I didn’t know if I was coming or going. And the action just didn’t stop from the very beginning till the very end.” – Melina Mason, Melina’s Book Reviews
Buy the Book:
Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!
Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, romance, and humor.
Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, son, and four dogs (including the real Gnarly) on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.
BOOK REVIEW TOUR SCHEDULE:
Oct 31- Working Mommy Journal– review / giveaway
Nov 1 – Bound 4 Escape– review / giveaway
Nov 2 – Life as Leels– review
Nov 3 – Books, Dreams, Life– review
Nov 4 – Book Reviews Nature Photos– review / author interview
Nov 7 – The Starred Review– review / author interview / giveaway
Nov 8 – Readers Muse– review / guest post
Nov 9 – Olio by Marilyn– review / giveaway
Nov 10 – Library of Clean Reads– review / giveaway
Nov 11 – Nighttime Reading Center– review / giveaway
Nov 14 – Bless Their Hearts Mom– review / giveaway
Nov 14 – My Journey Back– review
Nov 15 – A Mama’s Corner of the World– review / giveaway
Nov 16 – Jaquo Lifestyle Magazine– review
Nov 17 – fuonlyknew– review / giveaway
Nov 18 – 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too!– review / giveaway
Nov 21 – Heidi’s Wanderings– review / giveaway
Nov 22 – The Autistic Gamer– review
Nov 23 – Deal Sharing Aunt– review / giveaway
Nov 24 – The Travelogue of a book addict – The Book Drealms– review / giveaway
Nov 25 – Books for Books– review
Nov 28 – Pause for Tales– review / guest post / giveaway
Nov 29 – The World As I See It– review / giveaway
Nov 30 – Rockin’ Book Reviews– review / giveaway
Dec 1 – Sahar’s Blog– review
Dec 1 – fundinmental– review / author interview / giveaway
Killer in the Band
A Lovers in Crime mystery
“We think of first love as sweet and valuable, a blessed if hazardous condition.”
Eleven Years Ago—Dixmont State Hospital, Outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
“Hard to believe this was once a state-of-the-art psychiatric hospital,” the young Pennsylvania state trooper said to his partner, an older officer who seemed unimpressed with the long history of the century-old hospital that rested on top of a hill overlooking a major freeway and railroad tracks.
Heavily damaged by fire and decades of neglect, the complex’s main building had once been a historic landmark, a toast to what had been considered cutting-edge psychiat- ric treatment back in the 1800s. More than a century later, the many buildings that made up the facility lay in ruins, decaying, and the grounds were overgrown and covered in trash left by kids, psychics, and filmmakers.
“Only goes to show you how quickly the state of the art can become out of date,” the older officer grumbled. “Do you have any idea how many crazies died here? How many are buried in that cemetery?”
“Which is why it’s one of the most haunted places in the world.” The young officer uttered a sinister laugh.
An unmarked police car rounded the curve in the road that weaved up the long hill from the highway down below. Recognizing the woman driving the cruiser, the older trooper muttered something under his breath.
“What is it?” his partner asked. “Gates.”
Before the older officer could answer, the unmarked car pulled into a parking space next to their cruiser.
“Detective Cameron Gates,” the older trooper said in a low voice as he watched the slender woman with shaggy cinnamon-colored hair climb out of the cruiser. “Was on leave most of last year because she—” He made a motion with his hand to indicate drinking.
“Good morning, Fred,” she said to the older officer. “I see you’re keeping the new recruits well informed on who to know and who to stay away from, as always.”
“Detective Gates,” Fred said with a stiff smile before introducing her to his partner. “Detective Gates is with Pennsylvania’s homicide division.”
Struck not only by how attractive she was but also by how young she appeared to be, the young officer shot her a grin. She couldn’t have been much over thirty, if that.
With a polite nod to the young police officer, she asked, “What have we got?”
“A dead body,” the young officer answered. “A creepy dead body.”
“They’re going to tear the place down,” Fred said while leading her down the battered concrete walkway, around the long main building, and to the abandoned building behind it.
“I heard all about that,” Cameron said, watching to make sure that she didn’t trip over rocks or the broken cement on the uneven path. “The owners tried to have the place renovated so that they could build a shopping center a couple of years ago. Ended up causing big landslides down onto Highway Sixty-Five and the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill. It took the state weeks to clean up the mess.”
“So now they’re just mowing the whole place down.” Fred led her around the corner of the main building. A sec- ond abandoned building came into view.
“This is the dietary building,” the young officer said. “They found the body in the walk-in freezer.”
“A lot of kids hang out here,” Fred said.
“It’s supposed to be one of the most haunted places in the country,” Cameron said. “An abandoned mental hospi- tal. Legends. No one around. Perfect place to bring girls. You scare them and then hold them tight and hope to get lucky—or to get drunk.”
“You should know,” Fred said with a wicked grin.
Ignoring him, she asked, “Could one have accidentally gotten locked inside and suffocated?”
“Doubt it,” Fred said. “They found the freezer door locked from the outside and a broom handle jammed in the latch.”
“Sounds like someone didn’t want whoever was inside it to get out.”
They climbed the steps up to a loading dock. The garage-type doors had been removed, providing a wide open path into the kitchen area. Pennsylvania’s crime-scene investigators were already at work examining the area out- side and around the freezer; its rusted-out door, which was wide open; and its cavernous interior.
Near the activity, three men and a woman wearing hard hats were giving their statements about how they’d made the discovery to a few uniformed officers.
After showing the officers the gold shield she had clipped to her belt, Cameron waded through the officers and investigators and stepped inside the musty walk-in freezer. Taking note of the rotten food that had been abandoned decades before resting on the rusty shelves, she slipped evi- dence gloves onto her hands.
Having seen more than her share of dead bodies as a homicide detective, Cameron did not think that much could surprise her—until the medical examiner moved aside to let her see the body slumped in the corner.
Aware of her colleagues around her, Cameron fought to hold back the gasp that wanted to escape from her lips.
She had expected a decayed skeleton—nothing more than bones and rotten clothes. Instead, the dead body that had been reported was just that—a dead body whose flesh was dried and petrified and the texture of beef jerky.
“Never thought we’d find a mummy right here in Pittsburgh, Gates,” the medical examiner, an older man, said with a hearty chuckle.
“Not really, Doc,” she said. “How?”
“Freezer is airtight,” he said. “Electricity was turned off in the eighties, when the place closed down, so it wasn’t on. Sealed tight as a drum so that the elements and insects couldn’t get to him. Body couldn’t decompose. It dried out and mummified.”
Cameron squatted down to peer at him. His thick locks were blond and combed back off of his forehead. Still, even in death, not a strand was out of place. He was wearing baggy white pants and a matching jacket with shoul- der pads that had yellowed slightly with age. Dark-brown splatters across his shoulders and on his pants indicated
blood. Under the jacket, he was wearing a blue collarless shirt.
“I see blood,” she said. “Cause of death?”
“Beauty of mummification is that it does preserve evi- dence.” He pointed to the scalp. “There’s evidence of blunt- force trauma to the head.”
Cringing, Cameron reached down to pick up one of his hands. In spite of the decay, she was able to make out cuts and bruises on it. “Hopefully, for his sake, he was dead be- fore he was sealed up in here. It could have taken days for him to die if he’d had to wait to run out of air. Any ID?” She proceeded to search his pockets.
“None,” the medical examiner said. “No wallet. No money. No driver’s license. Nothing.”
Resting next to his legs was the neck of a guitar. The broken strings hung loose like chopped-off vines. After con- firming that the instrument had already been recorded and photographed by the crime-scene unit, she slipped it out from under the dead man’s hand and found that the neck of the guitar had been violently broken off of its body. On the exposed wood of the neck were stains that were the same brown hue as the stains on the dead man’s white suit.
“Where’s the rest of it?” she asked while searching the floor, and then she spotted the shattered body of the black guitar behind the dead man.
“Could this have caused the head wounds?” Cameron asked the medical examiner.
“Won’t know until I get him back to the lab.”
Cameron knelt down to peer closely at the victim’s fin- gers. Despite his condition, she was able to see the callouses on his hands. Pleased to have made one discovery, she sat back on her haunches. She took in his clothes, which at one time—during his life—would have been considered very stylish. But then they were old and discolored.
“We may not know his name, but I do know one thing about John Doe,” Cameron said. “He was a musician.”
“Whoever beat him to death couldn’t have been a fan,” Doc said.
❖ ❖ ❖
Three Years Later—The Russell Ridge Farm and Orchards, Chester, West Virginia
Does she have any idea how close she is to being Monster’s lunch?
Suellen Russell was staring out the bay window, across the front porch, and out across the lush green yard at Ellie. The plump white cat was lazing on her back in the bright summer sun. Little was the cat aware that Monster, a playful young border collie, had her in his sights. Several feet away, under the cover of the hedges that lined the spacious yard across from the horse pasture, the border collie was bellying his way in the direction of the feline.
Just at the right moment, Monster launched himself. On cue, Ellie sprang up from the ground, twisted around in midair, landed on her feet, and flew across the yard and up the big maple tree. Her movements were so graceful that they seemed choreographed.
Laughing, Suellen tore herself away from the window and returned to her baby grand piano to work on her next original symphony piece. She so wanted to have it completed in time for rehearsals for the next season at the Philadelphia Philharmonic, where she had been the symphony conductor for the last twelve years. As part of her agreement with the company, the prestigious philharmonic featured and per- formed her original works.
She was living her passion and her dream.
Don’t worry, Suellen, you’ll get it done before you go back to Philadelphia for the winter season. You always do.
She cringed at the thought of returning to Philadelphia. Her husband, Clark, had died that spring. Feeling like a zombie, she’d simply gone through the motions of the last six weeks of the season before running home to the farm where she had grown up—her favorite place to escape the stress of the big city. As much as she loved the excitement of the metropolis, she was still a farm girl at heart.
In a matter of weeks, her period of mourning would have to end. She’d have no choice but to return to Philadelphia and to the empty house she used to share with her husband. Her phone rang, which was a welcome interruption.
Turning her attention back to the landscape, Suellen an- swered the phone.
She searched her mind, trying to put a name to the familiar voice from long ago.
“It’s me, Catherine,” she said. “I’m sorry—”
“Cat!” she said with a giggle. “Cat Calhoun. Used to be Foxworth, back in another lifetime. All of my respectable friends call me Catherine now.”
“Cat!” Suellen replied. “My God. I didn’t even know you had my number out here at the farm. What have you been up to?”
“Well, you do know that Harrison and I finally got married—”
“About time,” Suellen said. “How long did you two live together before that happened?”
“Five years,” Cat said. “We moved in together about nine months after the group broke up. Got married when I got pregnant. We now have three kids. I’m teaching music at a private school here in State College.”
“Is Harrison still an on-air radio personality?” “You mean ‘DJ,’” Cat said with a laugh.
“Since they don’t use record discs anymore, they’re ‘radio personalities.’”
“Don’t tell me that Suellen Russell is politically correct,” Cat said. “Nope. He gave that up when he became a father. Now he’s grown up, and he owns his own public-relations firm. Can you believe it? Two middle-aged rock ‘n’ roll- ers now driving SUVs and juggling gymnastics and soccer practices?”
“And I’m conducting symphonies and rubbing elbows with the artsy crowd,” Suellen said.
“You always were one of the artsy-fartsy set,” Cat said. “You only pretended to be a rock ‘n’ roller because you knew that that was where the money was. You didn’t have me fooled for a minute.”
Suellen heard a deep sigh on the other end of the line. “What is it, Cat? What’s wrong?”
Cat hemmed and hawed and then said, “Did you ever hear from Dylan Matthews?”
“No,” she said. “As a matter of fact, a few weeks before that last concert, he gave me a binder with a bunch of songs in it, all songs that he had written—”
“Do you still have it?”
“I think so,” she said. “It was all music. No lyrics. He wanted me to write the lyrics for him. Said he was going to send them in to an agent—”
“Probably the same agent he screwed us over for,” Cat said with a growl in her tone.
“I was really surprised,” Suellen said. “I never thought he was musically talented enough to write songs.”
“He did teach himself to play the guitar.”
“But he couldn’t read music,” Suellen said. “I never thought—”
“Did you ever look at those songs?”
Suellen laughed. “As a matter of fact, I didn’t. He gave them to me right before I came back to the farm that sum- mer. I never even got a chance to look at them. After he screwed us at the Fourth of July concert, he cornered me in the parking lot. Of course, I was madder than a wet hen. Crying. I was a royal mess.”
“We all were.”
“Well, would you believe that he had the balls to ask me to finish the songs for him? He offered me a job as a ghost- writer, I guess.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“I got the impression that he had sent the songs to this agent who had signed him but she didn’t handle instrumen- tals. There was one song in particular that he really wanted me to put words to. He kept saying that it would be the song that would make him a star. Not us, mind you. Him.” She laughed. “I told him where to stick his job offer. He said he wanted the songs back, and I told him to send me the ad- dress of where to send them to—”
“Because he was leaving that night to drive to Hollywood,” Cat said.
“But he never contacted me with the forwarding ad- dress, and I never sent the songs. They’re here in the house somewhere.” She paused. “Why are you asking me about him? Did he call you?” She laughed. “Don’t tell me…Is he living under a bridge someplace? Would serve him right.”
“I think he’s dead,” Cat said in a low voice. “You think—”
“Harrison and I were watching one of those crime- watcher shows,” Cat said. “And they had this segment about a body that was found at that mental hospital out by where we did that Fourth of July concert. No identification at all. They showed an artist’s rendition of what the guy would’ve
looked like, and Harrison swore that the image looked like Dylan. He wanted me to call you to see if you ever heard from him.”
“Couldn’t be Dylan,” Suellen said. “He left for Hollywood right after that concert.”
“And he took his guitar. Right?”
“Dylan took that guitar everywhere with him.” “They found a guitar with the body.”
Suellen was silent.
“Found in an abandoned mental hospital minutes from where we last saw him,” Cat said. “Guitar found with the body. The face in the artist’s picture looks a lot like Dylan’s.”
“Has Dylan ever—” “No.”
“What about Wendy, his sister?” Suellen asked. “I assume she left with him. Did they find her body, too?”
“They didn’t mention a woman’s body in that show,” Cat said. “I’m looking for Wendy but not having any luck. I haven’t seen her since Dylan abandoned us.”
“He wouldn’t have abandoned his sister. If they found Dylan’s body, then where is Wendy?”
“Maybe she killed him,” Cat said. “She never was wrapped too tight.” She uttered a sigh. “Suellen?”
“What, Cat?” Suellen’s mind was racing as she tried to remember the order of events after that Fourth of July concert.
At the beginning of the night, they’d all had so much hope for their futures, but the concert had turned into a nightmare that had shattered friendships—all because of the selfish ambitions of one individual.
“You said it was a crime-watcher show. How did Dylan, if it was Dylan, die?”
“Murdered. They said on that show that based on foren- sics, he was killed sometime between 1986 and 1990.”
“And the last time any of us saw him was July 4, 1988,” Suellen said. “Right in the middle of that window.”
“Exactly. Suellen, Harrison and I were talking…Dylan’s been gone all these years. None of us have heard from him. If it is him, he’s been dead for decades, but no one knew it. If we tell the police it’s him—”
“Might be,” she said. “We don’t know that for certain. Dylan wasn’t the only guy with a guitar who ever went missing.”
“What if it is? If we call the police and it ends up be- ing him, the police are going to ask all types of questions. With that big fight after the concert and the things that were said—”
“They’ll think it was one of us,” Suellen said. “You saw the picture, Cat. Sounds to me like you and Harrison are pretty certain.”
“Maybe it’s not,” Cat said. “Point is, I’m thinking that a lot of time has passed since that night. We all have lives now. You married very well. How’s Clark?”
“Clark died four months ago,” Suellen said.
After an awkward silence, Cat said, “I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”
“So am I.”
“Tony is running his father’s company now,” she said. “My stepson and I have a good relationship.”
“So you have a good life,” Cat said. “So do Harrison and
I. It would be a shame if everything that we’ve all built up since Dylan betrayed us got all shaken up because he went and got himself killed. The police will start asking questions. Everything that everyone said in the heat of the moment that night will be dredged up, when for all we know, Dylan picked up some hitchhiker who killed him and stole his van. Or maybe it isn’t him at all.”
“Are you saying you don’t want me to call to see—”
“I think that’s best, don’t you, Suellen? And if by some chance someone does recognize Dylan and calls the police, we’ll all agree to say that we were all together all night after that concert, drowning our sorrows in a bar until we went our separate ways the next day—long after Dylan had taken off to go to Hollywood.”
“We alibi one another,” Suellen said with a nod of her head. “What if it was one of us who killed Dylan that night?” “What if it wasn’t?” Cat replied. “Dylan dumped us like garbage and publicly humiliated us. Now, after all these years, if we come forward to identify that body they found, one of us—if not all of us—could end up losing everything because of that backstabbing son of a bitch. Would that
really be fair to any of us?”
Suellen responded with silence. “What are you going to do, Suellen?”
“Go back to my life,” she said. “Thanks for calling, Cat.
Present Day—Rock Springs Boulevard, Chester, West Virginia
This is a first.
The scent of eggs and bacon cooking wafted upstairs to the hallway and greeted Joshua Thornton when he stepped out of the bedroom that he shared with his wife, Cameron Gates.
Joshua, a county prosecutor with the instincts of a de- tective, went about eliminating suspects. Since Cameron was in the shower, she couldn’t have been the one manning the stove. Their thirteen-year-old daughter, Izzy, would have demanded breakfast rather than attempt to cook it herself— and Donny, his eighteen-year-old son, would’ve done the same.
That left Joshua Thornton Jr., better known as J.J.
A smile came to Joshua’s lips. His firstborn son had re- turned to the nest after graduating third in his class from Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law only two days earlier.
Nothing like a good breakfast first thing in the morning to get the brain cells working. Since law school was out of the way, it was time for him to concentrate on passing the bar exam in September.
With a bounce in his step, Joshua jogged down the back staircase to the kitchen and discovered that his deduction had been wrong.
It was Donny who was cooking breakfast, and he ap- peared to have dirtied every dish in the process of doing so. He was not alone in the country kitchen. Irving, their twenty-five-pound Maine coon cat with markings identi- cal to those of a skunk, and Admiral, who was half Irish wolfhound and half Great Dane, were taking full advantage of the situation. Irving was lapping up raw eggs that had dripped from the counter to the floor, and Admiral had snagged some burnt toast via counter surfing, which was quite easy for the enormous dog.
“What are you doing?” Joshua asked, failing to keep the shock out of his voice.
“Cooking breakfast,” Donny said with a proud grin on his face. “You keep reminding me that I’m going to college this fall and that I need to learn how to do things for myself. So I decided to start cooking my own meals.”
With great effort, Joshua ignored Admiral, who had reached up to take a strip of bacon off of Donny’s plate be- hind him and dropped a second slice to the floor for Irving. The two pets were in heaven.
“While I admire your initiative,” Joshua said, “and I would be the first to admit that learning to cook is a tre- mendous life skill that will come in handy, it isn’t imperative that you learn that skill right away. It’s just not as important as learning to do your laundry. You’re going to be living in a dorm at WVU, and you’ll have a meal plan. You won’t even have a kitchen.”
“I said what?” Clad in sweats and running shoes, J.J. trotted down the stairs and into the kitchen. He stopped short when he saw the mess and the animals going to town on the remnants of his younger brother’s cooking adventure. “Oh my! It’s great not to be you right now.”
In practically every way, J.J. was a younger version of his father—right down to their piercing blue eyes. Standing side by side, they were identical, with their shared height of a couple inches over six feet and their athletically slender builds.
As he was approaching fifty, Joshua’s formerly auburn hair had turned silver with age. An inactive-duty member of the navy, he had allowed his hair to grow out into silver waves and to touch the top of his collar, and he’d grown an ultrashort trimmed brown beard along his jaw and a moustache.
Several years in academia had rubbed off on J.J. and made his nature more casual than his father’s, who had spent his career in the military and in the legal profession. His casual attitude was reflected in his auburn hair, which he wore in layered waves down to his shoulders.
Well over two inches taller than his father, Donny, who had received a football scholarship to West Virginia University, had the bulk and muscular build of the football linebacker that he was. He was a good thirty pounds heavi- er—all muscle—than his father and brother.
“Want some breakfast?” Joshua asked J.J. with a wave of his hand.
“I’m going for a run first.” J.J. hurried out of the kitchen and into the hallway that led to the front foyer.
Joshua followed after him. “Well, I’ll make sure Donny cleans up this mess, and we’ll have breakfast waiting for you—”
“No need, Dad,” J.J. said as he stopped in the midst of opening the front door. “I’m meeting Tad for breakfast at Cricksters.”
Joshua halted. His cousin, Dr. Tad MacMillan had in- vited J.J. to breakfast. When did that happen? Why didn’t he mention it to me? He was here just last night, and—
Shrugging off the suspicion, Joshua forced a smile onto his face. “No problem, then. I’ll see you this afternoon. I’ve got a court hearing. If you run into anything that you need my help with while studying—”
“I’ll text you,” J.J. said with a laugh. “You already told me.”
Realizing he was smothering his son, Joshua took a step back. “Sorry.”
“Why don’t you meet us at Cricksters?”
“Great idea,” Joshua said. “Cameron doesn’t have to go in until later. She can join us.”
The frown that crossed J.J.’s face lasted for only a second before he forced it into a smile. “Yeah, that’ll be great.”
At that moment, there was a crash in the kitchen. Irving screeched. Admiral yelped. Donny cursed.
“You’re cleaning this up!” Cameron yelled. “What time?” Joshua asked.
J.J. checked the time on the pedometer he wore around his wrist. “Give me one hour.”
❖ ❖ ❖
Located at the end of Carolina Avenue and one block east of the Chester Bridge, Cricksters was Joshua and Cameron’s place—as well as the place of many of Chester’s residents. The family restaurant boasted a full menu of comfort food and tasty desserts, including freshly baked pies supplied to the restaurant by Joshua’s daughter Tracy, a recent graduate
of the Culinary Institute of America. Selling her fresh pies and cakes to Cricksters was her first step in establishing her catering business.
By midmorning, Cricksters’ early-morning rush had fin- ished, and there were a lot of empty tables. Claiming that she didn’t have time for breakfast, Cameron had begged off Joshua’s invitation. Since his wife never passed up a chance to eat out, he suspected there was another reason she’d opted out—possibly the company.
Joshua had no problem spotting his cousin, Dr. Tad MacMillan, sitting alone in a booth and checking messages on his phone.
The son of Joshua’s uncle on his mother’s side, Tad was more than a relative. He was Joshua’s best friend. They were so close that Tad lived literally next door to the Thorntons with his wife, Jan, and their toddler son.
Raised by his grandparents after his parents had died in a car accident, Joshua had looked up to Tad like a father after his grandfather had passed away. That was not always a good thing, considering that for many years, Tad had been the town drunk. Then he’d gotten sober and become the town’s respected doctor and the county’s medical examiner. He was living proof that a leopard can change his spots.
“I thought you didn’t eat breakfast.” Joshua slipped into the seat across from him. He did not miss the fear that flashed across Tad’s face.
After sucking in a deep breath, Tad blinked and broke into a grin. “You scared me, Josh. I didn’t see you come in. What are you doing here?”
Joshua’s eyes narrowed. “J.J. invited me to have breakfast with you. Is there a problem?”
“Why would there be a problem?” “You look guilty.”
In a flash, Joshua recognized the feminine voice that had come from behind him. Before she had time to pass him and to greet Tad, who had risen from his seat to take her into a hug, Joshua’s teeth clenched. His heartbeat raced as he held his breath. Immersed in his rising fury, he didn’t realize she had turned around and seen him until he heard her voice echo in his head. Judging by her tone, she was as shocked to see him there as he was to see her.
“Hi…Josh,” she said, stuttering.
Joshua raised his eyes to meet her gaze. “Hello, Suellen.” “I…I—” She continued to stutter as she looked from
Joshua to Tad. “I didn’t expect to see you here.”
“No, you clearly expected to see J.J.” Joshua was on his feet. He directed his glare at Tad.
“Now, Josh, remember what Grandmomma always said.
If you have nothing nice to say—” “Suellen?”
Ignoring the fury in Joshua’s eyes, Suellen Russell ran up to J.J., who had stepped into the dining room. Upon seeing the exceedingly slender brunette, he stopped. Joshua thought she’d been thinking about throwing herself into J.J.’s arms but had stopped short, uncertain of how welcome that would be after the many years that had passed since their last meeting. She waited for J.J. to take the lead.
“I’d hug you,” he said, “but I’m all sweaty. I just ran from one end of town to the other.”
“I don’t care,” she said in a breathy voice. “Come here.” With that, she threw her arms around him and held him tight. He returned her hug with so much enthusiasm that he lifted her off of her feet.
“It’s a small town, Josh,” Tad said. “Suellen retired from the symphony and came home to stay. J.J. is back for at least this summer until he passes the bar. They were bound to run into each other eventually.”
“Look at you.” Suellen was brushing her hand across J.J.’s face. “I’ve missed you, J.J.” She kissed him softly on the lips.
Unable to watch anymore, Joshua turned around to face Tad. “So you decided to take it upon yourself to hurry things along.”
“He’s not seventeen anymore, Josh.”
❖ ❖ ❖