Love meets murder in this new cozy mystery series set in a quirky romance bookstore, with a heroine to die for.
Lizzie Hale may be the lucky owner of a successful romance bookshop, Love Under the Covers, but she's decidedly un-lucky in love. Though she's read almost every famous romance novelist, from Jane Austen to Nora Roberts, none have helped her figure out how to get—and keep—a man.
But Lizzie has bigger problems to worry about. Like murder.
When Brody Pierce, swoon-worthy ranch owner and resident bachelor, is found stabbed through the chest, hearts were heard breaking all over idyllic Tinker's Creek. But when Lizzie's aunt is implicated in the murder, she's determined to clear her name. Lizzie quickly realizes that Brody was a hunk with many hidden secrets, and she's soon leafing through a stack of suspects longer than Brody's list of lovers.
With the killer still on the loose, Lizzie will have to find the truth before this act of passion ignites a fire she can't put out.
Release date: September 14, 2021
Print pages: 320
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Death of a Red-Hot Rancher
When Brody Pierce walked into a room, folks sat up and took notice.
Eyes got wide.
Hearts beat faster.
Men's, because they automatically compared themselves to Brody's six-foot-four-inch muscular frame, strong jaw, straight nose, eagle-eyed stare.
Compared themselves, and found themselves lacking.
Women? They had a whole different kind of reaction.
But then, Brody was that kind of man.
As if I needed proof, my left arm prickled and my cheeks caught fire. Automatically, I gave my arm a thorough scratching and, just as quickly, told myself to get a grip.
It was no use.
Like every other female in Tinker's Creek, Ohio, I couldn't help but fall under Brody's spell.
It must have been those broad shoulders of his. Or that raven-dark hair, shot through at the temples with the slightest hint of silver.
Or maybe it was his voice, a deep, rich baritone with just a tad of a drawl that was as heady as a shot of bourbon.
"Good morning, darlin'."
That voice-and the man standing just a couple of feet from me on the other side of the front counter of Love Under the Covers-shook me out of my daydreams. Was the smile that automatically wreathed my face too dopey? Too encouraging? Did my dark curly hair look as completely unruly as it usually did, and would Brody think the green streak I'd added to it the night before was sexy? Or just alien-weird?
Get a grip, Lizzie Hale!
I did my best to do just that, giving my arm another scratch while I pulled in a long, deep breath. I centered myself on the soles of the pink canvas sneakers that made it possible for me to negotiate way more than my minimum number of fitness steps in the bookstore each day.
Brody was a customer, not a knight in shining armor who'd come to whisk me away.
And I was the owner of the most successful romance bookstore in the Midwest.
I'd better start acting like it.
"Mood gorning." I gave myself a mental slap and coughed away the faux pas. Yeah, like that would somehow prove to Brody I wasn't a total goof.
"Good morning, Brody." I congratulated myself when the words came out right this time, and yes, I managed to keep a sigh from the end of my greeting. Eyes as blue as Caribbean waters will have that effect on a girl if she's not careful.
"How are . . ." No way I'd be able to finish the sentence. Not while I was looking at the man. I asked the question of the pile of brochures on the counter in front of me advertising the next Love Under the Covers speed-dating night. "How are you this morning?"
When the words came out right, I made the mistake of thinking I was home free and looked from brochures to man just in time to see him smile. It was an injustice to say the spark in his eyes that went along with his "Just fine, ma'am" was infectious. There was more to it than that. Cheerfulness, sure. Friendliness, absolutely.
The realization tingled through me head to toe, and I scratched a little more. Yeah, sure, all this talk of Brody's alpha-male superpower sounds crazy, but I knew for a fact I wasn't the only one who felt it.
Callie Porter, who'd stepped into the shop just after Brody, pretended to be looking at the display of newly published books over on my right, but she wasn't fooling anyone. I saw her take a good, long look at Brody's butt-hugging jeans and wave a hand in front of her flaming cheeks.
Tasha Grimes, who'd arrived just a few minutes earlier and should have been comparing my calendar to the scheduling program she had open on her phone so we could come up with a date for the next meeting of the local chapter of Writers of Romance, pressed her lips together and gave Brody the once-over.
Even my aunt Charmaine, who was almost older enough than Brody to be considered a cougar, picked that particular moment-coincidence? I think not-to prance out of the historical romance room. She sashayed into what used to be the wide front entryway of the nineteenth-century home that was now Love Under the Covers, the area where we took care of purchases and featured displays of little extras like herbal soaps and scented oils. Charmaine being Charmaine, she wasn't about to let Brody miss her grand entrance, not even when he was examining a spinning rack of handmade greeting cards.
With her way-too-golden hair scooped loosely at the back of her head in what was more messy than bun and her long green skirt rippling around her ankles like a gentle wave, Charmaine looked more like a ship's figurehead than a bookshop employee. Fists on her ample hips, she stopped three feet from Brody and looked him up and down. "Well don't you look as handsome as that Prince What's-His-Name this morning."
"Maybe as handsome, but nowhere near as rich!"
It was the same playful back-and-forth they always used to greet each other, and just like he always did, Brody laughed. No surprise, there aren't many people who aren't captivated by my aunt's bubbling personality and her wide smile.
It was, after all, why I'd hired her to work at Love Under the Covers. Charmaine Randall was as invaluable an asset to the shop as the books-all those wonderful books-that filled every nook and cranny.
"Is Lizzie helping you with what you need?" my aunt asked Brody, and yes, she fluttered her eyelashes. Charmaine has that kind of chutzpah. "I mean, with everything you need?"
This time, the sound I stifled was a groan. Somewhere in her overactive and somewhat warped imagination, Charmaine had decided she wasn't above a little matchmaking when it came to me and every available man in our little town. Honestly, she should have known better. Though I may know everything there is to know about fiction-romance heroes, plots, tropes, and authors-when it comes to real-life romance, I am unfortunately and ashamedly pretty much a dud.
Thanks to my uncanny ability to turn into a puddle of mush with a mouth full of marbles every time an attractive man is near me, my relationships tend to flare like bottle rockets and fizzle just as quickly.
I didn't need to add Brody Pierce to the sad-but-true list.
My smile firmly in place, I assured my aunt, "Whatever Brody needs, I can take care of it," before I turned my attention to my customer and asked, "What I can . . . can I help you with?"
"Oh, just thought I'd look around a bit." Brody inched back the cowboy hat on his head to reveal a strip of scraped skin, new and nasty-looking, on his forehead. "I'll give you a holler if I need you."
Before I could ask what had happened and if he was okay, he strode away from the checkout counter, tipping his hat to Charmaine, Callie, and Tasha before he went into the contemporary romance room.
"Give you a holler."
When Brody said the words, they sounded as sensual as a love poem. Not so much when they were parroted by Ned Baker.
My head snapped up and my gaze shifted from Brody's retreating and delicious form to Ned, who had just walked up to the counter with the newest Nora Roberts paperback in one hand. The thunderous look on his face matched the growl that added a note of acid to his words. He tossed a look over his shoulder toward the contemporary romance room. "Man acts like he just stepped in off the back forty."
"Which he probably did," Charmaine pointed out. I had a feeling she might have said something more, too, something in the way of how dare you criticize Brody when you're not half the man he is, if I hadn't shot her a look. She didn't like it, but she got the message. She tossed her head and continued on toward the back of the shop.
I watched her go, then did my best to dissolve the sharp sting of Ned's words with a smile.
"Brody does own a ranch," I reminded him.
The sound that escaped Ned was somewhere between a harrumph and a snort of disgust. "Grown man, playing cowboy, raising those . . ." Ned's shoulders trembled. "Those animals."
The animals in question were bison, and ever since Brody had bought one hundred acres outside of town and established the Pierce Double B Bar Ranch there, he'd gone on to make a name for himself. Not only was he a responsible farmer and landowner, but restaurateurs from places like Cleveland and Akron and Cincinnati flocked to his ranch for what they claimed was the finest, the sweetest, and the healthiest meat around. Of course, Ned knew that. Ned was a successful financial advisor, a middle-aged guy with a doughy nose, a receding hairline, and just-starting-to-sag jowls, who officially lived in Cleveland but spent most of the summer at what I'd heard was an impressive country home on twelve acres that abutted Brody's ranch.
"Not a bison fan?" I asked.
It was an innocent-enough question. I did not deserve the curled lip I got from Ned.
"You haven't heard?" That lip curled even more, enough to reveal Ned's clenched teeth. "I guess that aunt of yours hasn't, either, or the story would be all over town by now. That man . . ." He didn't need to glare toward the contemporary romance room. I knew who he was talking about. "That man . . . last night . . ." As if praying for strength, Ned closed his eyes and clutched the paperback tighter. He tapped the spine of the book on the counter, the sound of his aggravation a sharp tattoo of Morse code. "I had some of my business associates down for a cookout." He shot me a look. "Important people."
Something told me Ned wouldn't have invited them if they weren't, but I didn't point this out. It didn't matter, and he didn't give me time anyway.
"There we were having cocktails on the patio when one of those beasts came over the fence and crashed through my yard."
I'd driven past the ranch. I'd seen the bison. They were big, and I'd heard they could be fierce.
"You must have been terrified!"
One corner of Ned's thin lips twisted. "You think? You ever see one of those things in action? Big as trucks, fast as you wouldn't believe. And ornery." He whistled low under his breath. "I swear that animal came at us shooting death-ray-dagger looks."
"What did you do?"
"Do? I called the police, of course. Right before I called Pierce. Raised a stink, too, I can tell you that much."
He hated to admit it. Ned crossed his arms over his chest. "Came as fast as he could, I suppose."
I imagined the scene, and it wasn't pretty. "How did he . . . ? How could he manage . . . ? He got the bison out of your yard?"
I hadn't even realized she'd been right there and listening, but Callie plunked a reissue of a Debbie Macomber classic on the front counter. "Bison don't intimidate Brody," she said. "Maybe he's simply more of a man than you are, Ned. That's why all you did was make a phone call. Brody was the one who had to spring into action."
"Shouldn't have had to do either-call the police or have Brody come over acting like some superhero savior." Ned dug a ten-dollar bill out of his pocket and plunked it on the counter. "That animal never should have gotten over that fence. Besides, I didn't say I was intimidated, I said bison are nasty animals." When I gave him his change, Ned refused a bag. "Mark my words . . ." He pointed at both Callie and me with his book. "No good comes from having animals around that are that wild. Pierce will see. Oh, one of these days, he'll see, all right. My insurance company is giving him a call today. So is my attorney. He's lucky no one was hurt. Or worse."
And with that, he took himself, and his new book, out of the store.
I made the comment to no one in particular, but that didn't stop Tasha from sidling up to the counter just as Callie backed away. "You believe that story?"
I glanced her way. "You don't?"
"Oh, I believe it happened. But my guess is it wasn't nearly as dramatic as Ned makes it out to be. He knows Brody's insurance company will cover any damage, so what's the big deal? No, bison aren't what's bugging Ned. Haven't you heard?" She bent her head closer. "Ned saw his wife, Joy, talking to Brody the other day outside that new bakery shop over on Main Street."
I do not have my aunt Charmaine's imagination. "So? They were talking. That doesn't mean anything."
Tasha rolled her eyes. "Talking. Real close. Standing. Right together. With Brody, that can only mean one thing."
"Ridiculous." Callie pushed in front of Tasha to plunk a copy of Romantic Gazette magazine on the counter. "Joy Baker is not Brody's type."
I begged to differ. From what I'd seen, every woman was Brody's type. Not that I was going to step into the middle of these two customers and point that out.
Tasha snickered. "And I suppose, Callie, you know what type that is?"
"I should." Callie was a short, round woman who favored skirts that were too short, tops that were cut low, and plenty of blue eye shadow. Her chin came up and her shoulders inched back. "Brody and I have been out a time or two. We were in the same graduating class," she added as an aside to me. "In high school."
Tasha frowned. "And I was a few years behind you, remember." She didn't have to say this obviously meant she was younger than Callie. "And by the way, I've been out to dinner with Brody, too."
Callie sneered and ignored the comment completely, directing her remarks at me. As a longtime resident of Tinker's Creek, Callie knew what everyone else in town knew-I'd lived there for just two years. In a small town, that meant I was a newcomer. And always would be. "Brody left here and made something of himself. How lucky we are . . ." She glanced toward the contemporary romance room. "A genuine Hollywood star. Right here."
"Commercials are not exactly Hollywood," Tasha pointed out. "Though I will admit, when one of those truck commercials he's in comes on TV, I do tend to watch them. Real close."
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