Chapter One


            "I'm telling you right now, sugar I'm leaning towards bumping off Clyde Worsten rather than having to deal with him one minute longer," Teensy Coldicutt said with a dramatic sigh.

            Lizzie Turner almost dropped the mini Triple Chocolate cupcake she'd just rescued from the serving tray on the wicker patio table next to her. She shot a glance at Molly Mathews who started laughing, much to Lizzie's surprise.

            "Don't look so distressed, Lizzie," Molly said between chuckles. "Teensy's talking about her new book, aren't you?" She shifted her glance to her childhood friend of over sixty years.

            Teensy looked around at the three other women in Molly's sun room and burst out into her own deep-belly laugh. "Oh, my. Of course your mind went straight to the worst, Lizzie. Being such a great fan of mysteries, and I might add, a dynamite crime fighter, I can see as that would happen. But Mopsy is right. Clyde Worsten was going to be the hero on my latest novel, Divine Secrets of Desire, but he's not cooperating at all, at all. So, he's either going to be the victim or if he gets me really riled, I'll turn him into a murderer. Serve him right if he has to spend the rest of his life in jail."

            "Mopsy," Sally-Jo Baker stated with a grin.  "It still takes me by surprise sometimes when I hear you use Molly's childhood nickname." 

            "And I didn't know you were writing a mystery, Teensy." said Lizzie.

            "Goodness gracious, of course not. My forte is romance and I'm into another hot plot I want you to know but that doesn't mean I can't throw in a dead body or two if the characters don't shape up and cooperate."

            Lizzie shook her head. "I'd heard that writers talk about their characters taking over a story."

            Teensy leapt up from the white wicker love seat with more energy than many women her size. Her new hairstyle, a dramatic wedge, had also gone from a bright orange-red to a vivid dark red with a broad white streak sweeping across her brow. The black leggings, smock-necked orange and green long-sleeved blouson, and four-inch sandals contrasted with Molly's classic cream ensemble of casual pants and silk blouse. Lizzie marvelled at the many difference between the two long-time friends. 

             "Oh, believe me, they do," Teensy said. "And, I'm just bursting to tell you both about my news."

            Molly looked up from the Wedding Bells magazine she was perusing.  "You have a publisher?"

            "Right in one, Mopsy. Remember poor Nick Jennings, the editor at Crawther Publishing? Well, it looked like he needed someone to talk to when he was in town after that tragedy last fall, so I befriended him, and one thing led to another."

             Molly wasn't able to suppress her gasp. "No."

            "Oh, Molly. There's hope for you yet but that's not what I meant. We starting talking about writing and I told him of the great success my first book had garnered around here and he said he'd take a look at my new manuscript. So, maybe it's not a done deal but I know that when he reads the first three chapters and synopsis I've just sent him, I'll be signing on the dotted line."

            Lizzie fervently hoped that would be the case. Of course, she knew nothing about Crawther Publishing and their lines, except for the mysteries they had showcased at the book fair held in Ashton Corners last fall. But, she had read Teensy's first book, which had been co-published with a local printer, and Lizzie wondered if it would have met the criteria of an established publisher like Crawther.

            "We're wishing you loads of luck with that Teensy," said Sally-Jo, choosing a pecan swirl from the tray of sweets. "This is really a nice idea, Molly, having us over for a girls' afternoon while the guys are out fishing."

            "I thought so," Molly agreed. "It's a wonder though that Bob, Jacob and even Mark were all able to find a free weekend in common to get away."

            Lizzie nodded, knowing only too well that her significant other, Mark Dreyfus, didn't often take an entire weekend off from his job as Police Chief of Ashton Corners, Alabama. She was pleased he'd decided to go, knowing how hard he'd been working for some time now without a real break.

            Teensy walked over to the table and chose a sugar cookie. Rather than eating it, she held it in her hand and started pacing. "Well, let's just hope they have lots of luck and we can indeed have that fish barbecue they're promising when they come home tomorrow."

            "What has gotten into you today, Teensy?" Molly asked. "You've either got ants in your pants or you've had way too much coffee."

            "I have all these ideas floating around in my head and I'm just trying to shake them into some sort of order," replied Teensy, waving her hands in emphasis. "I need to harness all this energy and do something."

            "I thought writing was taking up most of your time."

            "Oh, it is but that doesn't mean I can't do others things also. I think I write best if I'm under pressure and a deadline."

            "You also have the writing course you're running., I mind remind you. How much more do you want on your plate? And how is the course going, by the way?"

            Teensy perched on the edge of the love seat.  "As well as it should, I guess.  There are mostly women enrolled although I do have one elderly male. He's a bit too old for my taste, must be at least seventy-five if he's a day, but he does have a good sense of humor.  Anyway, to most of the others in the class it's a social afternoon out. Of sure, they do the homework exercises I give them but not many are trying their hand at writing anything else. And that's what this whole course is for. I wanted to help others find themselves and explore their inner writers."

            Sally-Jo leaned over to touch Teensy's hand. "I can see that you'd be frustrated, Teensy. I'd bet there's a lot of preparation time that goes into it, too."

            "Not really," Teensy admitted, with an embarrassed grin. "I put the outline together by looking at other courses and then I found tips and suggestions from a whole slew of books on writing. It was easy, really. I think I'm even learning a few things, too."

            "Why that's just great," Molly said with enthusiasm. "And even if you don't turn out a Pulitzer winner, at least they're all doing something they must be enjoying."

            "Oh, for sure." Teensy sighed. "I guess I'm just being silly. There is one gal though who has lots of promise and she's working her way through writing a novel. I'm trying to help her as best I can."   

            "Well, that's all to the good," said Molly. "Now is there anything else that's got you so bothered?"

            "That's just it, I do not have an iota of an idea why I'm so antsy these days. Maybe it's a touch of spring fever. But I feel like I need something else to be getting involved in. You don't have another body hidden away somewhere that needs a heaping of justice, do you?"

            Molly shuddered. "Heavens no. And don't you go jinxing us now, Teensy Coldicutt. Things have been nice and quiet with the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society for a while now, aside from the occasional verbal fracas with a certain stubborn retired police chief that is."

            "Pshaw.  I do believe you enjoy the sparring just as much as that old dog does, Mopsy."

            Lizzie turned away from them quickly before Molly could see her face. Teensy had hit the nail on the head but Molly was still in denial. Bob Miller and Molly had know each other since childhood and although their lives had taken such different paths, the ties were maybe even stronger.  Much as between Molly and Teensy.  That was the wonderful thing about small towns.

            "What about doing some volunteer work?" Lizzie asked. "I'm sure you'd fit right in with the reading program the school board promotes in elementary schools. You go in and read to various groups of kids. Usually they're ones having trouble with their reading skills or maybe they have short attention spans. And, you can choose the days and times you'd like to be involved. I think you'd be really good at that, Teensy."

            Sally-Jo nodded. "You'd certainly be able to hold their attention, Teensy. I think you'd give very colorful readings."

            Teensy thought about it for a few minutes.  "You could be right, girls. I'll look into that. Thank you."

            "You're welcome," they answered in unison and broke into laughter.

            Molly reached for the empty pitcher of iced tea. "I'm betting y'all would like some more." She paused before going into the kitchen.  "Now don't say anything important until I get back." 

            "We'll just talk about you behind your back, Mopsy," Teensy called out. "Nothing important though."

            Molly made a face at Teensy as she came back outside.  She offered to refill Sally-Jo's glass.  "I know I'm real anxious to hear where you're at with your wedding plans, Sally-Jo."

            Sally-Jo flipped the cover shut on the magazine on her lap and held it up to them.  Premier Bride. "This is about as far as I've gotten. Thumbing through all these magazines. Who knew there were so many focused on wedding planning? Jacob and I are thinking small but my folks are thinking big. I'm not quite sure what to do."

            "Well, I'm enjoying looking through all these here magazines," Molly said. "It sure brings back memories although we didn't go searching through catalogues for a wedding dress in my day."

            Lizzie looked at her with interest. "What did you do? Go to a big city for a day of shopping?" 

            "Not at all. My mama had wanted me to wear her dress but it had gotten damaged over the years, despite her careful packing away of it. So, she had a local dressmaker come in, suggest a style, and take my measurements. We agreed on the material and a few months later, I had my dress. And I just loved it."

            Lizzie nodded. "It looks wonderful in your photos. Maybe that's what you should suggest, Sally-Jo."

            Sally-Jo had her finger marking a page in her magazine. She opened it and showed it to the others.  "So tell me truthfully, what about the style of this dress?"

            Lizzie leaned closer for a better look. She tried not to sound too critical. "I don't really think it's you, Sally-Jo.  I somehow can't picture you in a mermaid look. I'd think something more elegant and flowing. Sorry."

            "That's quite all right. In fact, I was hoping you'd say something like that. My mama, however loves this dress. In fact, she told me to go out and buy this magazine and have a look at this particular one." Sally-Jo sighed. "It's not me but I know just how pushy Mama can be. And I'm afraid I just might end up walking or rather waddling down the aisle in this."

            "Can't you just go out shopping and buy a dress on the sly?" Teensy asked, a devilish twinkle in her eye. "We'd all be as happy as a puppy with two tails to go with you."

            Molly glanced at Teensy. "That's not being very sensitive to her mama's role in all this. It's as important a day for her as it is for Sally-Jo."  She raised her glass towards Sally-Jo and smiled. "But, honey, we would be very pleased to help you out with this."

            "Oh, no. Mama wants me to come home some weekend soon and she'll book appointments in all the bridal salons in Fort Myers. She'll summon the sisters, too. Shes even offered to pre-shop for me to narrow it down and make the decision easier."

            Sally-Jo looked so gloomy and defeated that Lizzie wanted to give her a big reassuring hug. "What do you want?"

            A small smile crept across her face. "I'm sort of leaning to a strapless dress on the shorter side, maybe falling just below the knees and with an empire waist."

            "I think that sounds like a wonderful choice for you," Molly's voice rang with enthusiasm.

            "Thanks, Molly. Maybe I can get you to brainwash my mama."

            "It's early days still. You've got until next spring, a whole year off."

            Sally-Jo shrugged. "You don't know Mama. There'll be no resting until I have a dress chosen and tucked away in my closet."

            Lizzie's started to say something but was interrupted by the ringing of the front doorbell. She looked at Molly who had settled back in a lounge chair, and said, "I'll get that for you."

            "Thank you, honey."

            Lizzie went through to the foyer to the front door and peered through the peephole to see a young woman standing there. She pulled open the door.

            "Hi. May I help you?"

            The girl with the Miley Cyrus hairstyle looked to be in her early twenties. She wore trendy skinny jeans and a silver distressed style leather jacket along with a black shirt and multi-colored beads around her neck.  She tried to peer past Lizzie. 

            When that didn't work she crossed her arms and stated, "I'm looking for Bob Miller."

            It sounded like a challenge to Lizzie.