Vows & Vengeance
Spring is in the air, and so is murder! A time capsule, a cold case, and a three-hundred-year old ghost are about to turn my life upside down.
Mama and Daddy are celebrating their anniversary and renewing their vows. Our town is celebrating an anniversary too—three hundred years after the founders buried a time capsule, we’re digging it up.
Along with the items of historical interest, we get a surprise. The time capsule contains a bloody knife...and a ghost!
Then there’s the skeleton my cat Tabby unearths, hidden under the capsule. Lordy, what's next?
When an unknown entity takes the knife and uses it on one of our own, finding the culprit will tax my ghost-whispering skills, as well as put me at odds with multiple suspects. Can I find the answers to the cold case and bring the guilty party to justice? Or will the knife end up buried in my back, and the ghosts of yesterday haunt me forever?
Enjoy this excerpt!
“We want to renew our vows,” Mama says, “at the anniversary party.”
She sits on the edge of the chair across from me in my office, Daddy beside her. Both grin from ear to ear.
“That’s awesome.” I hide my concern about the celebration being only five days away. Their thirtieth wedding anniversary is a big deal in and of itself, and I’m thrilled at the idea. I’m just not sure how to add a vow renewal on top of the rest on such short notice. “What brought this on?”
Dipping her chin, she reaches over and takes Daddy’s hand, intertwining their fingers. I swear she bats her lashes at him. “Do we need a reason? We’ve been through a lot in our married life, and well, it feels right.”
“Okay.” I drag over my paper planner and flip to Saturday’s page. It’s already filled with a dozen to-dos, sticky notes, and highlights. “I’ll see if Reverend Stout is available to perform it.”
“Oh, we don’t want him, Ava.” Her tone suggests I’m being silly.
I glance up. “Why not?”
Her eyes, so much like my own, appear a bit surprised. She sighs dramatically and shoots Daddy an exaggerated look. “You’re an officiant. Why wouldn’t we have you do it?”
“Me?” While it’s true I can conduct ceremonies, my experience playing minister is limited. Since taking over my Aunt Willa’s event planning service, I’ve only married one couple in the gardens behind the house. It’s part of my modest bridal package for those who prefer a small-scale affair with fewer than twenty guests.
In Thornhollow, Georgia, bigger is always better when it comes to social gatherings, as evidenced by my parents’ upcoming celebration with an expected attendance of nearly four hundred. “Mama, I’ll have my hands full running the party. Surely, it would be better to have Reverend Stout do the honors.”
“What more do you have to do?” She seems truly perplexed at my resistance. “All our friends and family are already invited, Betty Lee has the flowers ordered, Queenie’s preparing the food, and Brax and Rhys are taking care of the decorating. The hotel is perfectly equipped with a bar and anything else we’ll need. Don’t you see? It’s perfect.”
She’s correct, but I’ve learned that on game day, things often don’t go as well as they should. Caterers and florists are like the rest of us—they get sick or their car breaks down. A location such as the hotel suddenly has a flooding issue, or a storm washes out the road to it. Since I moved home last fall, I’ve had both occur. Just two weeks ago, one of the elderly guests at a wedding passed out thirty seconds before the bride was due to walk down the aisle. Luckily, the woman was simply dehydrated, and after the ambulance whisked her off to the clinic to be checked, we resumed. But stuff happens.
However, seeing the way Mama keeps glancing at Daddy like a dewy-eyed school girl, how can I say no? Not even my dislike of speaking in front of large groups would make me disappoint her if I could keep from it. “All I want is for you to be happy, so if you want me to officiate, I’d be honored to.”
Mama always gets her way, regardless of the circumstances. Seeing the expression of delight on her face at my acquiescence is worth the unnerved cramping in my stomach. She claps once and digs in her purse. “Excellent. Your father and I have some ideas for the script.”
Great. Hopefully that makes my job easier, but when is life with my mother ever easy?
I accept the paper she hands me and glance over the itinerary. Being mayor of Thornhollow, she’s exceptionally detail-oriented and organized. The agenda in front of me is nothing short of a full-blown ceremony, complete with several musical numbers. My dad is a musician, so no surprise there, and the one saving grace I see is that the two of them plan to write their own vows. All I need to do is conduct the opening, and then close the ceremony.
“We’d like you to add your own words about our family and what it means to you before we recite our oaths to each other,” Daddy says, killing my hopes of getting off light.
“Of course.” I smile. “Looks like it’s going to be a beautiful event.”
“You’re going to compose your own vows, right?” Daddy teases Mama.
She playfully boxes his arm. “Of course, I am.”
“Why wouldn’t she?” I ask.
He winks at me. “She has Candace writing her speeches now. Just making sure she isn’t writing the vows too.”
Candace is her newest executive assistant. A dramatic eye roll accompanies feigned exasperation. “You are incorrigible. I only have her tweaking my words. She’s young and has a way with the eighteen to thirty-year-old demographic.”
Her phone rings and she fishes it out. “Speak of the devil, I have to take this. I’m sure she’s anxious about where I am.”
She hops up from the chair and paces from my office at the front of the house. Daddy sits forward, watching her. “This means the world to her,” he says in a hushed tone. “You need to do everything you can to make the day special.”
I don’t miss the fact that he excluded himself in the statement. “I am honored that you want me to perform the ceremony.”
He raises an eyebrow. “But…?”
“No buts. You know I hate speaking in front of people, that’s all. The two of you are good at it—having the spotlight on you. Me, not so much. I do my best work behind the scenes.”
“What are you going to do when you marry that Cross fellow and his mother invites the entire county, plus, all their relatives from up north?” He winks at me. “Better get used to being in the spotlight, baby girl. You were born for it.”
I chuckle nervously and glance at the gorgeous diamond on my ring finger. “I was so not born for it, but thank you for reminding me to panic about my own upcoming wedding. If, that is, Logan ever gets a break from the Gullen case, and Mrs. DeHavilland’s divorce gets pushed through before Hades freezes over.”
On Valentine’s Day, the love of my life proposed and I said yes. I’ve dreamed of having it in June, but that’s only a month away and we can’t make solid plans, due to Logan’s current caseload. As the only attorney in town, he’s up to his neck with a lawsuit against the owner of the old metal works property and a divorce that’s making the news every night. As it stands, he has to be in court every day for the next six weeks, and that means we can’t throw the bash his mother is demanding until fall. I’m disappointed, but my own business is expanding, too. Delaying our wedding so we can enjoy our ceremony, rather than feeling stressed out by it, seems wise.
“You’ll be walking down that aisle before you know it,” Daddy says, standing and stretching. “And I’ll be one proud father escorting you.”
Mama rushes back in, shoving her phone away and grabbing her purse. “Gotta run. WRTV Channel 5 wants to do an interview about Founder’s Day.” She kisses Daddy and hustles for the door. “Don’t forget, one p.m., Ava. Get there early if you can. I want a photo of you and Amos Butterfield. It will make a great promo shot for the Chamber.”
“Who?” I ask.
She looks at me flummoxed. “Amos ‘Mastermind’ Butterfield? He’s the state historian, and the bestselling author of the Murder in the Heart series. Honestly, Ava, didn’t you read the info I sent to everyone on the committee?”
Stepping into my aunt’s shoes, I inherited her position as president of the Chamber of Commerce. Usually, I let the VP, Baylor Davis, take care of things and she does a great job. She’s the town’s librarian and is as organized as Mama. Occasionally, however, I can’t get out of at least pretending to run the volunteer organization. Vaguely, I remember scanning the email, but I didn’t open the attachment. “Sorry. My mind has been filled with other goings-on.”
“Well, he’s quite famous, and he’s looking at significant historical places in our state for the setting of his next murder mystery.” She claps. “Being in one of his bestselling stories could catapult our little town to stardom!”
While that would be a feather in her cap, I’m not sure some of the townsfolk would be as excited about it. The tourism would certainly get a boost, though, and that would help everyone. “I’ll be there with bells on.”
“You better, and wear something appropriate.” As I glance down at my black pants and purple top, she turns to Daddy. “You’ll be there, right, Nash?”
“Honey, a horde of zombies couldn’t keep me from it.” He opens the door for her. “Good luck with your interview.”
She waves at us and Rosie, my office manager, calls, “Goodbye, Miss Dixie,” from her office across the way.
“Bye, Rosie. Kiss Fern for me.” In a flourish of Chanel No. 5 and the swish of linen, she’s out the door and down the steps.
“Your mother is a force of nature,” Daddy says, a gleam in his eye. He watches her hustle down the sidewalk in her signature dress suit. The spring wreath Rosie hung on the gate nearly falls when Mama slams it too hard in her haste. She’s texting someone as she gets in her car. “I’ve never met anyone like her.”
“About your vows.” I glance across the street to Logan’s place. I see his car is out front and I think about skipping the Founder’s Day thing and sneaking over to see him. Mama would kill me. Twice. “Do you need help writing them?”
He squeezes my shoulder. “Nope. Got ’em done already.”
There’s a twinkle in his eye that reminds me of my youth when he always had something fun up his sleeve. “Good for you.”
“Don’t tell, it’s our secret, but I’m going to sing them to her.”
Daddy and his guitar. I smile. A former cop, he left that life behind and pursued his dream of forming a band. They’re no longer together, but he’s semi-famous anyway. Although he’s cut back on his live performances so he can stay in town, he’s started his own YouTube channel and posts new songs, as well as a few oldies, every week. His following is close to twelve thousand and growing.
“That’s awesome. She’ll love it.” As will all his fans, because, dollars to donuts, someone in the crowd will record the whole thing and post it before the ceremony is even finished. “Mama need look no further than her own backyard for a famous guy to catapult us to stardom.” I use my best imitation of her voice.
He laughs. “I don’t know about that. Sounds like this Butterfinger guy is the real deal.”
I don’t correct his error on the name. “No matter, he can’t hold a candle to you.”
“I better scat.” He kisses the side of my head. “See you at City Hall.”
I shut the door behind him and heave a sigh.
“Your parents are so cute, renewing their vows, and all.” Rosie walks out of the kitchen with a glass of her favorite herbal iced tea. Her very pregnant belly makes her waddle as she closes the distance and hands a second glass of regular sweet tea to me. “How cool that you get to be part of it.”
“For sure.” I sip the cool liquid, wishing I felt more enthusiastic. This is a big deal for them and I don’t want anything to go wrong. “It’s going to be fun.”
“I can’t wait to see what’s inside that time capsule.” Fern, her tiny chihuahua, sniffs around our feet. “Is it okay for me to take my lunch at one so I can watch your mom dig it up?”
“We can go together.” All three of my cats are in the right display window, constantly shifting to stay in the beams of sun filtering through the current exhibit of my wedding gowns. Moxley, Logan’s basset hound, lifts his head from his bed in my office. He’s been staying with me since Logan is spending his days out of town. I scratch Arthur by his ear, and return to my desk to check my schedule again. Moxley flops back over and starts snoring. “Our first appointment is at two-thirty. We should return before then.”
Tabby, the marmalade cat who happens to be my ancestor and one of the original founders of the town, yawns and jumps down from her perch. She hops onto the desk and sits on the planner, blocking my view. Her golden eyes narrow at me and she meows.
“What?” I attempt to shift her out of the way, but she hisses, rears her tail in the air and paws at today’s date.
Rosie chuckles. “She wants to go, too.”
“No,” I tell my great-grandmother many times removed. A witch, she’s also a shapeshifter, and a troublesome one at that. “You don’t need to be running around downtown during the celebration.”
A flick of her tail, along with something akin to a growl, and she launches off the desk and heads for the kitchen.
“You know where she’s going,” Rosie teases.
“Out the doggie door.” I think about chasing after her, but know it’ll do no good. The woman has some serious magick juju. “How long ago was that time capsule buried?”
Rosie scoops up Fern and sways back to her seat. “When they set the foundation of City Hall back in 1757.”
Is it possible Tabitha was there when it went into the ground?
My desk phone rings and I shove the thought aside. “What do you wear to a time capsule reveal?” I half-joke.
“If you’re pregnant, maternity clothes,” she quips.
I pick up the handset. “The Wedding Chapel & Ava’s Events—from flowers and food to the happy ‘I dos.’ How may I help you?”
“Ava!” Jenn Calhoun’s familiar voice is shaking. “You’ll never guess what happened!”
Jenn is one of my brides who’s getting married next month. She also began working part-time for me recently to cover the cost of her dress, and is scheduled to assist with the upcoming Webster family reunion. “Please tell me your water didn’t break.”
This gets Rosie’s attention and her brows shoot up to her hairline. Jenn is farther along than my office manager, and looks like she’ll pop any day.
“No, no, not that.” She makes a squealing noise. “Jeremy is coming home early! Next week, in fact. He got a promotion and he’ll be here for two weeks before they ship him back out for training in Florida.”
“That’s awesome.” I’m already rearranging tasks in my head. “You’ll need time off to be with him then.”
“Yes, but more importantly, we need to move up the wedding!” She squeals again.
My stomach bottoms out. I’ve designed a special edition dress for her, and had planned to marry her and her beau in the backyard next month, but the design isn’t finished, and neither are the other preparations. “Um, of course. We’ll have to rearrange a few things, and—”
“I can’t believe it!” Her excitement practically lights up the phone line. “I’m getting married next week!”
I hate to ask, but have to. “What day exactly did you have in mind?”
“It will have to be Saturday,” she says, confirming my worst fear. “Jeremy is calling. I’ve gotta go!”
She hangs up and I stare at the handset.
“What was all that about?” Rosie asks.
“Jenn's boyfriend is home from the Army,” I tell her. “They want to marry Saturday.”
Rosie’s face falls. “Oh boy. We need to clone you.”
I drop the handset into the cradle and sink into my chair. “If you know how to do that, please give me the recipe.”
She picks up her phone. “I’ll call Gloria to see if she can fast-track the dress. We’ll work it out.”
That is the least of my worries. Jenn hired me to officiate her wedding as well. Mama and Daddy’s isn’t until four in the afternoon, so maybe I can get Jenn to hold hers earlier.
“Right,” I say to Rosie with more conviction than I feel. “We’ll work it out.”
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