- Publisher: Kimberlin Belle Publishing
- Available in: Kindle, paperback.
- ISBN: 978-1-946034-22-9
- Published: November 17, 2022
Dogwood Springs Cozy Mystery, Book 2
Libby Ballard is working hard to make a success of her new position as director of the history museum in the small town of Dogwood Springs, Missouri.
When the museum curator is unable to attend a local auction to bid on an armoire that belonged to the town founder, Libby agrees to go in his place.
But instead of winning the bid, Libby finds a dead body.
Join Libby, her golden retriever, Bella, and their friends as they try to find the killer!
Sales, Secrets & Suspects is part of the Dogwood Springs Cozy Mystery Series. If you like a mystery with an animal who will win your heart, friends who feel like family, and a sweet small town, you’ll love this series!
A clean cozy mystery with a hint of romance.
Read an Excerpt
At five minutes past five, I hitched my large black tote onto my shoulder, stepped into the hall, and locked my office. I hesitated a moment, running a hand over the sign on the door that said “Libby Ballard, Museum Director.”
Then I headed down the ornately carved walnut main staircase of the Dogwood Springs History Museum with my footsteps echoing through the empty building.
Which, sadly, had been empty all day.
Before five, of course, Imani, the education coordinator, and Rodney, the curator, had been with me in the museum. But we hadn’t recorded a single visitor for Thursday, August 3. Even though August was the height of vacation season, a prime tourist time.
At the base of the stairs, I made sure all the lights were off, then went outside and locked the front door of the museum, a big, white, two-story Greek revival that had once been the home of a local businessman here in the Missouri Ozarks.
In contrast to the museum, and in spite of the sticky heat of early evening, the rest of downtown was hopping. Tourists wandered in and out of the quaint shops that lined both sides of Main Street and offered candy, gifts, jewelry, and accessories. Couples chatted in the shade under the maples that had been planted in openings in the sidewalk and admired the giant baskets of pink, purple, and white petunias that hung from each antique light post. And groups of people gathered by the Dogwood Springs Bakery, the casual Dogwood Café, and the upscale restaurants that dotted the street, perusing the menus posted outside while they waited for tables.
Dogwood Springs, known as the prettiest town in Missouri, was a tourist mecca. People came from all over the U.S. to see the blue-green springs, the dogwood trees that filled the town with blossoms every April, and the hard maples that turned orange, red, and gold every October. Charming bed and breakfasts, an award-winning winery, and restaurants far above the normal small-town offerings had sprung up to cater to those tourists, as had the shops that lined Main Street.
I passed the bakery and inhaled deeply, detecting the sweet scent of brownies. There were so many things to love about this town.
When I moved here two months ago, I thought Dogwood Springs was the perfect place to start a new life after my divorce. After all, it wasn’t just a place I picked at random. My mother had been raised here, and I had fond memories of visiting my grandparents here as a child. Plus—an added bonus to someone like me, who loved history—my great-great-grandmother had once been the mayor. She’d helped make Dogwood Springs what it was today and was still seen as a key figure in the town’s history. So much so that a professor at the local university was writing her biography. I even owned the pearls she had once worn.
The town was a beautiful place, a good place, filled with kind people, and when I arrived, I’d firmly believed it was a place where I could rebound from disaster.
But it was proving to be harder than I’d thought.
Despite the throngs of tourists in town, the murder that had taken place at the museum on my first day of work had been a public relations nightmare. Thus far, my marketing efforts had been as effective as if I’d tried to walk past the bakery without going inside on a Wednesday, the day the owner made shortbread.
Thankfully, Rodney, Imani, and I had a plan to change things at the museum, a plan that began with me attending a local auction in two days. Even the effort we’d put into our strategy sessions made me feel more hopeful. Whatever the stressful situation, things were always better with a plan.
After a fifteen-minute walk, I arrived home at my apartment, the first floor of a plain, two-story house built in 1900. While some homes of that era were full of architectural details like wide baseboards and ornate crown molding, my apartment was far less elaborate.
After the hit my finances took with the divorce, I didn’t need elaborate. And at age thirty-two, I knew what I wanted—a place that was close to work, fell within my budget, and had character. My Elm Street apartment was perfect. The mantel was original, hand-carved, with initials I’d found hidden underneath that matched the first owner. An enormous maple in the yard made the concrete slab front porch a shaded oasis. I shared the house with Bella, my golden retriever, and Cleo, my best friend who lived upstairs.
I stepped into the entryway, unlocked my front door, and Bella immediately greeted me.
She trotted over from the front window, where she’d been watching for me, gave a single woof, and rubbed her head against my leg, a none-too-subtle hint that I should pet her.
I willingly obliged, and when I bent down to hug her, she licked my cheek.
“Oh, I’m glad to see you too, sweetie.” Tension I hadn’t realized I was carrying melted from my shoulders as I petted her head. I dumped my purse on the couch and followed Bella to the kitchen, where she headed to the back door, ready to go out into the small yard.
I let her out and sat on the concrete steps, happy in the sunshine in spite of the humidity, enjoying time with my beloved dog.
When I moved to Dogwood Springs, I had hoped to find a cat or a dog that needed a home. Instead, Bella, who had belonged to a retired FBI agent who had been the former tenant in my apartment before he passed away, had found me. When she’d needed a home, I’d adopted her, foolishly thinking I was doing it to help her. I’d quickly realized she gave much more to me than I could ever give to her. Bella was supersmart and full of love, and she made my whole life better.
A few minutes later, my upstairs neighbor and best friend, Cleo, drove into the gravel alley between our house and the one next door. She pulled her old red Jeep into the open bay on her side of the detached garage.
“Hey, Libby.” Cleo waved and yanked down the garage door.
I waved back.
Cleo’s short, blond hair glinted in the sun as she walked toward me. Even after a long day on her feet as the owner and most sought-after stylist at a local hair salon, her movements were energetic, her personality bubbling through. And somehow, she managed to look put together while wearing a simple outfit of skinny jeans and a vivid purple T-shirt. Maybe because she was taller and slimmer than me?
In contrast, I was average height, average weight, and wore my dark hair shoulder-length, in what once had been a bob. At the end of the day, especially after walking home in the heat, I looked hot and rumpled. Thanks to a heavy level of ragweed pollen in the air today, my green eyes, which I normally considered my best feature, were itchy and a little bloodshot.
Bella ran over to greet Cleo, and Cleo scratched Bella’s ears and told her she was more beautiful than any client she’d seen all day at her salon.
“How was the museum today?” Cleo took off her prescription sunglasses and replaced them with her regular glasses. Her brown eyes softened. “Any more visitors?”
I stood. “No. Still pretty empty.” Even with Cleo, I was embarrassed to say exactly how bad the numbers were. If I couldn’t turn things around, we might not be housemates much longer.
“Surely, the museum board is understanding. You’ve had a rather unusual situation.”
I tipped my head, acknowledging her point. The murder of my predecessor had been a shock to me and to peaceful Dogwood Springs. And it had definitely made my job running the non-profit harder. After the murder, the museum had been closed by the police for several days. “At first, when we re-opened, numbers were great. But I’m afraid those may have been people who wanted to see where the murder took place, not visitors actually interested in history.”
Cleo frowned. “That seems a little ghoulish.”
“I agree, but at least they paid the entrance fee.” Even if they may have found me—the person who couldn’t help but stick her nose in to catch the killer—more interesting than the exhibits. I let out a sigh. It wasn’t simply about filling the museum’s coffers. People needed to visit so they could see how fascinating and important history was. “But when school opens in a couple of weeks, Imani and I have lots of tours lined up.” Not a real money-maker, as we cut school groups a big discount, but at least the museum wouldn’t be so empty. “And we’ve got a fabulous plan to get the town excited about history again.”
“Oh, what’s the plan?”
“September 16th is the official date the town was founded, back in 1845, when it was called Silersville. We’re hosting a town birthday party, with cake and games and prizes and a new display about the town founder.” At more than one hundred and fifty years old, the town deserved a party.
Cleo nodded. “That does sound good. I’d come to that, even if we weren’t friends.”
“Excellent. We think if we can get locals, like the bed-and-breakfast owners, excited about the new exhibit, it should lead to more tourists coming in. We’re reaching out to them especially. After the murder at the museum, I’ve got a pretty good idea we’re not the first tourist spot people have been recommending.”
“Do you have flyers about the party? I could give them to my clients.”
“We do. And that would be wonderful. Thank you, Cleo.”
If all went as planned, the birthday party would turn things around. After the big event, we had several months of in-house programs planned, as well as community outreach.
“Happy to help. Is there anything else I can do?”
“If I didn’t know you work every Saturday, I’d invite you to go to an auction with me.”
“Ooh, how fun. I love auctions.”
“I hope it’s fun. Rodney’s having his knee replacement surgery tomorrow, so I’m in charge of attending the auction of Marjorie Billington’s estate and buying an armoire that belonged to Jedidiah Siler.”
“The town’s founder?”
“Yep. I wish you could go. I could use the moral support.”
Cleo raised her eyebrows at me.
“I’ve been to auctions before, even bought a few things, but Rodney’s afraid that if people see me bidding, they’ll think the armoire is a valuable antique—which it really isn’t—and bid the price way up, beyond what the museum can afford. I think his nervousness has rubbed off.”
“Who’s running the auction?” Cleo pulled a half-drunk bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper out of her purse and took a swig.
“Then you, my friend, are in luck. Not only am I the best hairstylist in town—who you should really let give you a trim—but I’ve also got connections.”
A tingle of hope bubbled up in my chest. “You know someone at Wilson Sales?”
“My cousin Sheila has worked there for years. Is there a preview tomorrow?”
“Let’s go after I get off work, and I’ll introduce you.”
“That would be fabulous. Thank you.”
Knowing someone at the auction, feeling like I was more on even footing with the locals, who all seemed to have known each other since grade school, would be wonderful.
I’d really lucked into the perfect spot when I rented my apartment. Not only had I found Bella, but Cleo had welcomed me right away and, in just two short months, become the best friend I’d had in years.
And with her help, hopefully I could buy the armoire for the museum and make the town’s birthday party a big hit.
The days without visitors would fade to a distant memory, and the museum would once again be a success.
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