DiscoverCozy Mysteries

Checked Out

By Elizabeth Spann Craig

Worth reading 😎

Recommended for the mystery lover who enjoys small town charm with a side of murder.

Synopsis

There are no renewals when you're permanently checked out. 

When librarian Ann Beckett finally reluctantly agrees to being set-up on a blind date by one of her over-eager patrons, she figures that the worst that could happen would be that the two of them wouldn't hit it off.

Little did she know that she'd be stood up…because her date was murdered.

With the help from her patrons, Ann tries to find out who might be responsible in the small town of Whitby before more residents are permanently checked out.

Ann Becket is relatable, a single book-loving librarian who knows just the right book for each of her patrons, while also being a reliable source of information. The story opens with Ann saving the lives of two adorable cats, just one small part of a day in the life of a small-town librarian. This rainy, dreary day ends with yet another blind date that Ann really wishes she didn’t have to go on. She didn’t think a date, set up by a dear patron, would start with murder. Welcoming a cat as well as a new Children’s Librarian into the library and trying to clear her former professor and dear friend’s name is just the beginning for Ann. Through conversation and a natural desire to solve mysteries, Ann discovers secrets and cover-ups she never expected to find.

Looking at the cover, I thought this mystery was going to center around a cat, but the cat is only a minor player. Once the mystery kicked up after the second murder, I couldn’t put this book down. There is a bit of timeline confusion towards the end of the story, that made the wrap-up hard to follow, but the whodunit is worth the twists and turns.

Cozy Mysteries are predictable and Checked Out is no different. We know that by the end everything will be wrapped up in a bow without a single mention of blood and guts. No matter where the twists and turns take us or where the gossip leads, we have a guarantee. This predictability is what makes stories like this a joy to read, because in real life we need more happy endings. Even with the timeline issues at the end, I would recommend this book for young and old mystery lovers who enjoy small town charm.

Reviewed by

I'm Hannah Cox and I'm and avid reader. I love to discover new books and share them with my audience. I believe the written word is one of the most powerful ways we can impact each other. My blog is geared towards millennial women. Outside of reading & writing, I love to paint & spend time family.

Synopsis

There are no renewals when you're permanently checked out. 

When librarian Ann Beckett finally reluctantly agrees to being set-up on a blind date by one of her over-eager patrons, she figures that the worst that could happen would be that the two of them wouldn't hit it off.

Little did she know that she'd be stood up…because her date was murdered.

With the help from her patrons, Ann tries to find out who might be responsible in the small town of Whitby before more residents are permanently checked out.

I’d just finished checking out some cookbooks for a young mom when the library doors flew open and two sopping-wet boys rushed up to the circulation desk. I stood up immediately because of the state the boys were in.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

The older boy was so winded that he just gasped out something completely incoherent so the younger one said, “There’s a cat out there! He’s in a culvert. He could drown!”

Another librarian said quickly, “You go. I’ll cover the desk.”

I hurried out, jogging to keep up with the two boys as they shoved open the door and scrambled out into the pouring rain. It was coming down in sheets and had been for the last couple of hours. I was immediately soaked through and shivered even though I could feel the humidity coming off the pavement in waves.

“Where is it?” I asked urgently. Surely a cat wouldn’t be able to hang on in a drainage ditch culvert for very long with the amount of water that must be gushing through it. There was a crack of thunder overhead and I winced.

“Over here! When our mom dropped us off, we heard a cat crying,” yelled the older boy who seemed to be getting his breath back.

The culvert was in a low-lying area on one side of the parking lot and water was gushing down into it to drain off. The last thing I needed was for the boys to get swept in. “Thanks, guys. What are your names?”

They told me and I thanked them again. “Go inside now and use the library phone to call your mom and tell her to come bring you some dry clothes.”

“No way!” said the boys in chorus.

The older one, who had a stubborn set to his chin, added, “We’ll stand back, though. But we want to see what happens.”

I gingerly knelt down to peer into the concrete, open-ended culvert. Sure enough, caught on some brush inside the pipe, was an orange cat. He stared back at me w­­­ith intelligent green eyes and let out a pitiful cry.

I leaned forward, now getting the knees of my black slacks soaked as I reached out for the cat. “Come here, sweetie,” I crooned.

The orange cat’s eyes shifted to the right, and he gave another cry but didn’t move toward me.

“Come on, baby. You’re safe. Just come with me.” I crawled carefully ahead into the large culvert, feeling the water surge against me and keeping my hand on the side of the culvert. Then I stopped, squinting as I peered ahead. There was a second cat in there, slightly farther back and still in the brush as the water continued flowing faster and faster.

“Can one of you boys get some help from inside the library? There’s another cat in here,” I called out. “And get one of the librarians to bring a flashlight from the storage room.”

From what I could tell from inside the culvert, they both took off, sounding like a small herd of elephants as they sprinted toward the building.

I kept crooning to the orange cat. “Is that why you won’t come out? Your friend is in there? You’re such a good friend, baby.”

The cat gave another sad cry, and I felt my heart pound in my chest. I shivered again and reached out to the cats. Neither one moved.

I heard the kids running back outside again and adult voices with them this time. I turned to see Wilson, the library director, hurrying toward me, clutching a flashlight and also, inexplicably, a rake, which he held aloft. He was always distinguished-looking with prematurely white hair, rimless glasses, and an omnipresent suit. A rather stylish elderly lady, an occasional patron of ours, trotted right behind him, holding an open umbrella and grasping another.

“What’s with the rake?” I asked.

He said, “The kids said the cats were stuck on some brush. The custodian thought that we could rake the brush forward.” He handed me the rake.

“Ah. Good point. Although I’m a little worried that the rake will scare them farther into the pipe. I’m going to have a hard-enough time reaching them as it is.”

He pulled something out of his rain jacket and shoved it at me. “Here. Also from the custodian.”

I propped the rake against my leg as I took a pair of leather work gloves from him. “Perfect! Remind me to kiss him.”

The patron said importantly, “And I’ll try to keep you all dry.”

Far too late for that, but I appreciated her efforts. At least the boys, apparently not wanting to get even wetter than they were, huddled under the open umbrella with her. “Hurry,” the older one implored me.

Wilson and I peered into the culvert again and the sad little orange face looked mournfully back at me. The cat turned his head to look at the other cat again and then turned back to me, giving me a hopeless look.

“Okay,” I said briskly, faking the confidence I didn’t feel. “Here’s the plan. I’m going to try to get the cat that’s farther back out first. I suspect the orange cat won’t come out without her. But since they’re so far back, I’ll use the rake to pull the brush toward me a little first.”

“Slowly,” clucked the patron, forgetting about the rain and stepping outside the spread of the umbrella before hurriedly ducking back underneath it as she was pelted with drops.

“Yes,” I said under my breath. Nothing to it. Just another day in the life of a librarian in Whitby, North Carolina.

I reached down and smiled what I hoped was a reassuring smile for the cats before feeling completely ridiculous. Would cats even recognize facial expressions? Instead I said, “Good babies. Just hold on.”

The orange cat took me at my word and did indeed hold on, grimly. The other cat, still only partly visible, wailed in distress as I ever so slowly crept as far into the culvert as I could and then even more slowly extended the rake to one side of the brush. Finally, after what seemed like hours, I was able to hook the rake behind the pile of leafy branches, pine straw, muck, and sticks and gently pull the mass toward me. Then I did the same on the other side of the mass of brush, managing to get the whole mess a couple of feet closer to me.

Still, I needed to get closer, so I abandoned my crouch and went fully on my stomach. The patron clucked again. “Do be careful! That water is scary!”

“I could hold on to your feet,” said Wilson reluctantly. He glanced down at his impeccable suit as if resigning himself to getting it immersed in the drain water. “I really don’t need one of my librarians floating away in the storm drainage system.” He pressed his lips shut. I’d worked for different directors, but never one quite as uptight as Wilson.

“I think I’ll be okay,” I said quickly, envisioning falling flat on my face in the process, especially since I wasn’t the most coordinated of people at the best of times. At this point, it seemed good to calm down Wilson just as much as the poor cats. “But if you could grab me if I start floating away? I don’t think that pile of brush would stop my progress.”

He stooped down on the edge of the culvert, grimly poised to rush into the culvert and seize my legs if needed. And, to make things worse, the rain came down even harder.

I crept to the cats, crooning under my breath. I gave the orange cat a light, reassuring rub, and he purred at me, although he remained steadfastly on his branch. I turned my attention to the other cat, reaching out a tentative hand. The cat’s eyes were huge, and I was worried she was hurt and might lash out in a panic. Gently I took off a glove to tickle her under her fuzzy chin and she half-closed her eyes in relief. I replaced the glove and continued sliding forward through the gushing water.

When I could scoot up enough, I put both my hands under her arms. She gave a loud cry that made me freeze and made the kids and the patron cry out, too.

“We have a hurt cat,” I said. “Can one of you call a veterinarian?”

“I will,” said the lady, her voice anxious.

I carefully cradled the cat in my arms and started the awkward process back . . . this time sitting completely down on the floor of the culvert and scooting forward inches at a time with the water up almost to my chest. I turned to look at the orange cat, who was now looking much more relaxed and cheerful. He gave me a little chirping meow and I couldn’t help but smile. Whoever he was, he was a charmer.

When I made it out of the pipe, the boys and the lady cheered. Wilson simply looked very relieved at not having to file a disability claim. “The vet is on the way,” the lady said.

“Wilson, can I very gently hand this cat over to you and get the other one? She can go in the breakroom,” I said. “I think her leg is injured, so I’ll try to be careful.”

Wilson reached out his arms and I slowly transferred her to him as the cat breathed heavily.

The lady said, “Do you have any old towels or anything to make her comfy until the vet gets here? And to dry the poor thing off?”

Wilson smiled through bared teeth as the tabby clawed his shoulder in alarm as he shifted her. “I’ll see what I can find in the custodial closet.”

He set off to the library, and I edged my way into the culvert again. The orange cat was very alert and seemed to want to help me as the rain continued gushing into the pipe. “You can do it, baby,” I whispered to him. As I held out my arms to him, he pounced into them and snuggled his wet, furry head against my neck. “Hey sweetie,” I crooned. Then I carefully crawled back out to more cheers.

The patron said, “I’ll see if he found the towels. Otherwise, I can run to the dollar store for hand towels.” And she trotted off, absently taking the umbrella with her.

It didn’t really matter because the boys and I were soaked to the bone already and so was the orange cat. We couldn’t possibly have gotten any wetter than we already were. The boys reached out to rub the cat, and he purred loudly.

We hurried back inside and found that our progress had been tracked by what seemed like everyone in the library. They’d all peered out the many windows of the building and cheered for us when we came in. “Give a round of applause for our two heroes today: Noah and Mason!”

The library applauded and cheered and the boys, delighted, gave mock bows.

 One of the patrons came up to me. “I captured the rescue on video on my phone! I’ll tag the library in it and post it online.”

I grinned at her. “That would be awesome.” Nothing like an adorable couple of cats in an action-packed video to bring traffic to the library social media sites.

Wilson dug up what appeared to be some ancient beach towels and had done his best to pat dry the injured tabby cat. He handed me a towel and started briskly rubbing dry the orange cat as he purred his appreciation.

Another patron quietly watched our progress from the door. “I could run out and get some cat food and a litter box,” he said.

“It wouldn’t hurt,” I said, turning to smile at him. “The vet is on the way, but I’m not sure how long the cats will need to be here in the meantime. Even if both of them need to go to the vet tonight, we could use some food and litter for now.”

Wilson raised his eyebrows at me as the patron hurried away to run the errand. “All right, Ann. What’s our end goal here?”

I leaned forward to gently tickle the tabby under her chin. The last thing I wanted to do was spook Wilson. But honestly? The Whitby Library would be an amazing place for a library cat. Instead I said, “What do you think? I haven’t really had a chance to think this all through. I was just concerned about getting the cats out of the culvert.”

Wilson looked at me over his glasses as he finished rubbing the orange cat dry. “We should focus on finding them good homes.”

“You wouldn’t happen to need a friendly cat, would you?” I asked lightly as the orange cat rolled over on his back and purred.

Wilson didn’t seem to notice that I was joking. He frowned at me and impatiently pushed his glasses up his nose. “I definitely don’t need a cat, no.” Then he said, “But you probably do, don’t you, Ann? Living by yourself?”

I snorted. “If I wanted to see the cat at all, I’d have to keep it here. You know I’m here practically daily and on weekends. A cat would be sorely neglected at my house.”

Wilson sighed. “All right. So here’s the game plan. We’ll let the vet have the cats. We’ll take the cats back here after the vet is done and post pictures to try to find them homes.”

I reached out and stroked the orange cat. “Perfect. And I’ll try to screen the patrons who display interest, since I know most of them pretty well.”

Wilson stood up, brushing the cat fur off his suit slacks and looking relieved. “That’s settled, then. Hopefully, we can find money in the budget to pay the vet.”

One of the other librarians opened the lounge door and introduced the vet, who was carrying two cat carriers. Wilson and I quickly introduced ourselves and I gestured to the tabby and said, “That’s the one who seems injured.”

The vet gently examined her and nodded. “Her leg is broken, for sure. I’m going to need to take her back to the office and set it.” She knelt by the orange cat and rubbed and talked to him as she examined him next. “This guy looks to be in perfect shape, however. He’s young and strong. In fact, if I had to guess, I’d say that the injured cat is probably his mother.”

I felt myself choking up and blinked impatiently a few times. There was something about animals that always got to me. “He wouldn’t leave her. I didn’t even see the tabby at first and the orange cat was determined to stay put until we helped her.”

The vet straightened up and said, “He sounds like a really special cat. I’m going to take him with me, too. I’ll want to check both cats for microchips and give them their shots. And fix them, of course, too, if they haven’t been spayed and neutered.”

Wilson winced a little as if wondering what the bill for all of the vet care might be.

“That’s perfect. Thanks so much.” I paused. “The two cats seem really close to each other. Is it all right to separate them?”

The vet said, “I think that may just be the circumstances in which they found themselves. Usually kittens are separated from their mom at about ten to twelve weeks old. The orange cat is far older than that . . . likely one year old. If it makes you nervous, you could always suggest a reunion later and see how that goes. And also monitor how the cats behave when they’re apart from each other.”

“Good ideas,” I said. “Thanks. I don’t want to create any problems for these sweeties.”

The vet smiled at me. “That’s no problem at all. And no charge for any of this—I’m just grateful you went beyond the call of duty and were able to rescue these cats.”

Now Wilson was beaming with relief at the vet, which made me smile, myself.

“All in a day’s work for a librarian,” I quipped. And I wasn’t stretching the truth. You never did know what was going to happen at the library. Except most of the time the adventures revolved around a jammed copy machine and a botched storytime.

“I’ll bring him back here tomorrow,” said the vet as she carefully put the cats into the crates.

“So soon?” I asked, wrinkling my brows. It seemed like major surgery to me, but then I hear of people getting pacemakers in outpatient, so what do I know?

“He’ll be fine and will even have slept off the anesthesia by then. He’ll just need to stay quiet. I have a feeling that won’t be a problem here,” she added with a twinkle in her eye.

Wilson snorted. “When was the last time you were in a library?” he asked. “This place is a zoo most days. Even without a couple of cats.”

The vet frowned. “Would you prefer if I kept them at the office and tried to find an owner for them there? Or perhaps just brought one cat back here? Would that make things easier?”

Wilson said, “Why don’t you bring her back here as a temporary measure? Perhaps we can try finding out if these cats have an owner. Worst case scenario, I’ll see if one of our patrons might be able to give her a good home.”

“Sounds good,” said the vet. “And, again, I’ll waive the charges for her care.”

Wilson put a hand up to his forehead as if it had started aching.

“I’ll take a couple of pictures of the cats and post them on the bulletin boards here to see if anyone knows who they might belong to,” I said.

Wilson made a face. “Perhaps that would have been better when they were snuggled into the beach towels and not crouched in carriers.”

“I’ll just open the crate doors and use my flash,” I said. I snapped a picture with my phone and then looked at the results. “Ugh.” I tried again. “All right, this one is a bit better. Regardless, if the pictures don’t find her a good home, then she can stay here at the library while she heals up and I’m sure someone will want her.”

Wilson carried one of the carriers and the vet the other and they trundled off to the parking lot while I picked up the towels and put them in a trash bag to take home with me to wash later. Then I printed out flyers with the cats’ pictures and ‘found’ on them and posted them several places in the library. After that, since my feet were still sloshing in my shoes, I retreated again to the breakroom.

Wilson came back in a few moments and quietly regarded me as I took off my shoes and dabbed fruitlessly at them with paper towels.

“I think you’re forgetting something,” he said.

Those words made me catch my breath. If there was one thing I hated, it was being late for something. “What is it?” I asked. “Don’t tell me we have some sort of bedtime storytime tonight for the kids.”

“You have that blind date tonight,” Wilson said with a chuckle. “You asked to leave here early, remember? Don’t you want to slip out of here and head home to change clothes?”

“Noooo. Ugh, I’d totally forgotten about that.” One thing about being single in your early-thirties was that there were gobs of well-meaning patrons dying to set you up with someone. It was both touching and incredibly frustrating. “I have that extra outfit here in case of emergency,” I answered automatically.

Wilson said, “I know how organized you are and I don’t doubt it. But, and forgive me for bringing it up, your hair and makeup leave something to be desired. It’s doubtful they’re appropriate for a date. It’s even debatable whether they’re appropriate for working in a library.

I craned to see myself in the mirror that was over the breakroom sink. Wilson was absolutely right. My shoulder-length black hair was stuck to my head, and the ends were still dripping tiny rivulets of rainwater down my soaked black blouse and khaki pants. My mascara and eyeliner had run, giving me raccoon eyes. There was also the fact that I had muddy paw prints and cat fur all over me.

I grinned at Wilson. “Actually, this is perfect. Now I can scare him off and not have a second date.”

Wilson snorted and shook his head at me. “You’re being silly, Ann. For all you know, this guy could end up being someone you could have a real relationship with.”

“It’s a blind date. Nothing good ever comes out of a blind date. Believe me, I know. I could likely write a book on them I’ve had so many. It’s been pouring all day and all I want to do is get home and get in my pjs and cuddle in my bed with a book. Besides, I’m not really in the mood to give a relationship a go right now. Things are busy at the library,” I said.

Wilson said, “Things are always busy at the library. If you’re waiting for that to change, you’re going to be single a long time. And you’re in your early 30s now. I’ve known you to go on dates, but never second dates. Not that it’s a bad thing being picky, of course. It’s just that sometimes it feels as if you’re burying yourself in the library instead of venturing out to find someone to spend your life with.”

I quirked an eyebrow at him. “You’re starting to sound like some of our elderly female patrons. Or the guys in the library film club.”

He ignored this. “Besides, that patron was being sweet to set you up on a date, wasn’t she?”

I sighed. “Emily is always sweet. She can’t help it. But I have the feeling that she’s thinking more of her great-nephew than she is me. This evening has disaster written all over it. But you’re right—maybe I’m subconsciously trying to sabotage it.”

“As your director, I’m urging you to go home and get ready.” He paused and then continued in a rare show of kindness, “We have plenty of help here today. We’ll manage just fine. And tomorrow, we have our new children’s librarian coming in, so we’ll have even more help,” said Wilson.

I smiled at him. “Got it. Okay, I’ll go ahead and head on back. I’m taking the wet beach towels with me to wash. And you’re right—tomorrow will be fantastic with a new librarian here.”

“Of course, you’ve done well filling in for the various storytimes,” he said stiffly. I hid a smile. I didn’t quite believe him.

“Thanks. But somehow, I don’t think that working with children is exactly my gift,” I said. I was definitely enthusiastic about the children’s lit. I loved everything from Babar, the Elephant to Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. But somehow, the kids always seemed especially squirmy when I was in charge of storytime . . . which I had been for several months while Wilson struggled to fill the children’s librarian position.

I lugged the trash bag of wet beach towels to my aging Subaru and drove home. Fortunately, home was only a few minutes away, not that anything was very far away in Whitby. It’s a beautiful mountain village with lots of old buildings and even older trees. It’s the kind of place that families vacation in to escape the city and to see fall leaves change on the Blue Ridge Parkway. There was also a quiet lake nearby, perfect for fishing and lazy afternoons on the water.

My house was admittedly more of a cottage, although I loved the place. After my mother died when I was little, my great-aunt took me in and raised me there. When she passed away five years ago, she left the cottage to me. The outside was a riot of rose bushes, gardenias, and azaleas. Flowering vines ran up the stone exterior and the entire effect was one of something out of a storybook. Which, as a librarian, suited me perfectly.

For the most part, I loved my neighborhood. It was a street of older homes, but the kinds of older homes that had a lot of character. A couple of them were old Craftsman houses, which I thought was really cool. Everyone tried to keep up with their yards, with varying degrees of success.

I was lucky in that my aunt had planted an amazing garden and I was only tasked with keeping it up. What’s more, every time I saw the garden, I thought of her. It used to be that the memories gave me a sharp pang in my chest from missing her quick wit, but now they finally made me smile . . . it took a while.

Most weeks I can spend some time maintaining the yard, even if I didn’t really know at first what I was doing. I did a lot better with it after I’d checked out a few books and magazines from the library—and even better when I’d invited our county extension office to give a talk about caring for local shrubs and flowers. I still had plans to plant a vegetable garden in the backyard someday like my aunt had done yearly. After an honest assessment of the amount of free time I had, though, I reluctantly shelved this idea for later.

There were only two people on my street that made me uncomfortable, and in different ways. One of them was Zelda Smith, an older woman with henna-colored red hair who chain-smoked constantly. Apparently, her entire mission in life was to pressure me to be on the neighborhood homeowner association board.

This, however, was not in line with my own plans. If I didn’t even have time to plant a vegetable garden, I certainly didn’t have time to serve on our homeowner board. Plus, I’d had several neighbors complain to me about the board and their intrusive policies.

Everyone was fine with many of their rules: rolling the trash and recycling bins back after collection and not allowing the yards to get too out of hand. But they also ruled on homeowner construction . . . whether they were allowed to put up a deck or a porch or even a backyard treehouse. That seemed to rile up my neighbors and was another reason why I didn’t want to have a spot on the board.

The other person on my street who could easily throw me for a loop was a guy who’d just moved in down the street. He seemed cheerful, witty, and handsome and somehow turned me into jelly when he glanced my way. As yet, I hadn’t even spoken to him, but I’d seen him interact with other neighbors.

It looked like my challenge today was going to be Zelda. I was getting my mail at the end of my driveway and she suddenly materialized from the other side of a bush.

“There you are!” she said with her gravelly voice. I jumped.

“Ms. Smith!” I said in an accusatory voice. “You scared the living daylights out of me.”

“Sorry,” she said, although the glint in her eyes told me that she was anything but. “I have a really tough time catching you at home.”

“That’s because I’m rarely here,” I said, trying to keep my tone light. “Usually, I’m at the library. I’ve mentioned this before. You’re more than welcome to find me at work if you need to.”

Zelda made a face. “I don’t read.”

I said politely, “There are many other reasons to come to the library. We have great study areas. And you can also check out music or stream movies from our website. Or even take a class. We have some interesting options coming up. I’d be happy to sit down with you and show you all the different ways you can use the library. There are some fantastic services.”

I could never seem to help myself from being an evangelist for the library. I could tell, though, that my propaganda was not having the desired result. In fact, Zelda now appeared even less-inclined to visit.

“I’m all right, but thanks,” she said in a completely disinterested voice. “What I really wanted to talk to you about was the homeowner association.”

 “I think we’ve already discussed that, Ms. Smith. I appreciate all the work that the board does, but it deserves to have a member that has the time to do a really excellent job. I simply don’t have that kind of time. I’m frequently working both at night and on the weekends. And I don’t take on anything unless I know that I’ll do a great job.”

Zelda Smith narrowed her eyes. “It’s your turn, Ann. Your late-aunt, God bless her soul, was a legend on the board. Such a gift she had! I know that she would want you to take a turn.”

The mention of my aunt was something of a low blow. “I don’t think she’d have wanted me to lose all of my meager free time, Ms. Smith. I wish I could talk longer about this, but I’m afraid I need to go.” I hesitated. As a librarian, my single focus was always helping people. It was very, very hard for someone to ask for help with something and me not provide it. I said slowly, “There’s a new neighbor on our street. I don’t know his name, but maybe he’d be interested in being on the board.”

“That young man?” Zelda’s expression indicated what she thought of youth in general. It also showed that she didn’t really consider me as being part of that group, although I was pretty sure that he and I were about the same age. “Someone told me that he was a radio DJ.” She spat out the words as if music was potentially poisonous.

“I don’t know him,” I added quickly. “I only thought that perhaps he was worth contacting.” I pulled out my key and headed to my front door with determination. “See you soon, Ms. Smith.”

I unlocked the front door and pushed it open with a relieved sigh, turning on a few lights as I came in. The cheerful interior never ceased to make me smile with its overstuffed gingham chairs and sofa, the multicolored scatter rugs, and the book-lined walls.

I opted for a quick shower, mostly to feel warm again finally after being out in the rain and drain water for so long. I put on a pair of black slacks and a gray three-quarter sleeve top. I pulled my black hair back into a loose ponytail, put in some small silver hoop earrings, and put on the gold locket that I always wore. It looked like I was about to head back to work, but I wanted to wear something conservative for this date that my patron had set me up on. I wasn’t planning on being encouraging, despite Wilson’s reminders to keep an open mind. At least there was one good thing; the rain had finally stopped.

I couldn’t help but sigh as I climbed back into my car. It would have been so nice to stay at home, pull on loose-fitting yoga clothes, warm up some leftovers from last night, and finish reading The Alchemist, which somehow, I’d never gotten around to reading. Then I told myself to get a grip. It was one date and it would make Emily very happy. Besides, my date was probably just as reluctant as I was. Maybe it would be something that he and I would even laugh over. I tried to remember his name. Roger. Roger Walton. I said it under my breath a couple of times to make sure it set in my brain.

One thing that I thought was odd was that he’d invited me over to his house for supper. In my long and disaster-ridden dating experience, I’d definitely learned one thing: meeting for coffee or lunch was safest. It was quick enough that you didn’t feel trapped, but long enough to give you some sort of impression of the person you were with. This made me wonder if Roger hadn’t been part of the dating scene for very long. Maybe he was recently divorced or had just ended a long-term relationship. His great-aunt Emily definitely hadn’t provided many clues.

I pulled up in front of a large house with a manicured yard. It looked like one of those lots where they put a huge house on top of two small lots. The sun was trying to peek out from the clouds, and I could see purples and pinks of an approaching sunset over the mountain peaks. I got out of the car, smoothing down my clothes and the wayward hairs from my ponytail. I sighed as I walked down the front walk. Emily had meant well, and it was really sweet that she’d wanted to set the two of us up. But I could never figure out why everyone was so determined to force single people into pairs. Taking a deep breath, I rang the doorbell, a few butterflies in my stomach. And waited.

After a minute had passed, I hesitantly rang the bell again. I didn’t want to sound frantic to get in and start this date, but it was the appointed time we’d agreed on. Wasn’t it? I frowned and checked my phone to re-read the text thread in case I’d lost my mind. But there it was . . . six o’clock. At his house.

Maybe the doorbell wasn’t working. I rapped at the door a minute or two later, shifting uncomfortably on my feet and starting to feel foolish standing at his door for so long.

Then I sniffed the air. Did I smell charcoal? Maybe Roger was planning a cookout and had neglected to tell me simply to walk around to the backyard. At any rate, he definitely wasn’t answering the door, so I decided to try the backyard.

When I circled around to the back, squelching through the muddy lawn, I saw a barbeque grill smoking . . . and the body of my date on the ground beside it, a skewer through his neck.


About the author

Elizabeth is the best-selling cozy mystery author of the Southern Quilting mysteries, the Myrtle Clover Cozy Mysteries, the upcoming Village Library Mysteries, and Memphis Barbeque mysteries for Penguin Random House, Midnight Ink, and independently. view profile

Published on April 02, 2019

60000 words

Genre: Cozy Mysteries

Reviewed by

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