The dead are not much given to hysteria. The morning Tammy Sue Lyerly piled her husband’s clothes into his Raven Black 1969 Mustang convertible and lit a match, my friend Colleen stayed oddly nonchalant. She’d been dead eighteen years and had seen a thing or two.
For her part, Tammy Sue was pitching an F5 hissy fit. She dug all ten fingers into her 1980s pile of long red hair, clutched her head, and bellowed, “Let it burn.”
Four Stella Maris volunteer firemen cast her worried looks but went about the business of hooking up the hose to the fire hydrant. We stood in a loose huddle a safe distance from the burning car in the Lyerly driveway.
“I asked you what you were doing here,” said Blake. My brother, Blake, was the Stella Maris Police Chief. My husband, Nate, and I were private investigators, and Blake purely hated it when we meddled in his business.
“I called her,” said Daddy. “I overheard at the flea market that your sister’d done some work for Tammy Sue recently. Thought maybe she’d want to know.” Daddy shrugged, looked innocent. Mamma and Daddy lived across the street from the Lyerlys, so naturally Daddy was first on the scene. Mamma had come with him. She raised an eyebrow to let him know she had his number. It wasn’t yet eight o’clock. Daddy sipped coffee from a large insulated stainless steel travel mug, all nonchalant like.
“For cryin’ out loud, Dad. We don’t need the whole town out here this morning.” Blake gave his head a shake. He scanned the neighborhood we’d grown up in. Folks gathered in clumps under the shade of massive live oaks in bordering yards. They’d all come out to see the show. The audience was growing fast. It was early on a Tuesday in the middle of June. Some of those folks were missing work. Blake lifted his Red Sox cap, ran a hand through his hair, and resettled the cap.
Tammy Sue grabbed my arm with one hand and clutched her chest dramatically with the other. “Well, I want her here, and you don’t have a single thing to say about it. This is my property.” “Yours and Zeke’s.” Blake kept his tone easy, casual. “Where did you say Zeke was again?”
“He’s with that cheap hussy, Crystal Chapman.” Tammy’s eyes glowed with crazy. She leaned forward and hurled the words at Blake. “And he’d better by God not come home unless he wants me to light his ass on fire too.”
A particularly flammable piece of clothing caught fire in a whoosh. The flames climbed, crackled, and popped. Blake closed his eyes.
“I just don’t see Zeke Lyerly being worth all this fuss, do you?” Colleen’s expression telegraphed her boredom. It was a slow morning otherwise on the island. Colleen was our guardian spirit. If she’d had anything better to do, she would’ve been elsewhere—she wanted that on the record.
I raised my brows and blew out a breath. Nate and I had worked a great many domestic cases. One thing I knew for sure: When love soured, it could turn sane people into raving lunatics. Colleen said, “Everyone thinks he’s so good looking. I don’t see it.”
“Seriously?” I squinched my face. Zeke was a fine example of the Southern male. I’d give him that much, and I was happily married and didn’t generally notice such things. Tall and lanky, with sun-kissed brown hair cut close to keep it from curling, mischievous blue eyes, an easy, movie-star smile, and a down-home drawl, Zeke was prone to flirt. He was a charmer. Nate quirked an eyebrow. A grin teased the corners of his mouth.
Damnation. I’d responded to Colleen out loud. No one but Nate and me could see or hear Colleen. I used to be her only human point of contact. But as soon as Nate and I were married in December, he was added to the family plan.
A wayward lock of dark blond hair brushed his forehead. His eyes were shockingly blue against his tanned, sculpted face. He kept his honeyed drawl low, where only I could hear. “We should never’ve given Tammy Sue those pictures.”
I cast him a look that said, Give me a break. We’d had no choice in the matter. Tammy Sue hired us to find out if Zeke was cheating. In my heart I just knew we’d find some crazy Zeke thing— he was a certifiable character, no doubt. But I would’ve bet he was true to Tammy Sue and our investigation would prove that, just like the last time she’d hired us. Unfortunately, I would’ve lost that bet.
You can read more about Liz in Lowcountry Bonfire, the sixth book in the “Liz Talbot” mystery series.
Private Investigators Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews have worked their share of domestic cases. So when Tammy Sue Lyerly hires them to find out what her husband is hiding, they expect to find something looney but harmless. After all, this is the guy who claims to have been a DEA agent, a champion bull rider, and a NASCAR driver. But when he turns up dead the morning after Liz and Nate deliver the incriminating photos, Tammy is the prime suspect.
Questioning the truth of Zeke Lyerly’s tall-tales, Liz and Nate race to uncover small town scandals, long buried secrets, and the victim’s tumultuous past to keep Tammy Sue out of jail and the case from going up in flames.
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About the author
Susan M. Boyer writes the USA TODAY Bestselling Liz Talbot mystery series. Her debut novel, Lowcountry Boil, won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel and garnered several other awards and nominations. Lowcountry Bonfire, the sixth Liz Talbot mystery, will be out June 27. Susan loves beaches, Southern food, and small towns where everyone knows everyone and everyone has crazy relatives. You’ll find all of the above in her novels. Reach out to Susan at susanmboyer.com.
All comments are welcomed.