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Authors: Nancy Naigle

Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Mystery, #Suspense

Barbecue and Bad News

BOOK: Barbecue and Bad News
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A
LSO BY
N
ANCY
N
AIGLE

The Adams Grove Series

Sweet Tea and Secrets

Out of Focus

Wedding Cake and Big Mistakes

Pecan Pie and Deadly Lies

Mint Juleps and Justice

Stand Alone Books

InkBLOT
, co-written with Phyllis C. Johnson under the pen name of Johnson Naigle

The Granny Series

In for a Penny
, co-written with Kelsey Browning

Fit to Be Tied
, co-written with Kelsey Browning

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Text copyright © 2015 Nancy Naigle

All rights reserved.

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle

 

www.apub.com

 

Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
Amazon.com
, Inc., or its affiliates.

 

ISBN-13: 9781477821831

ISBN-10: 147782183X

 

Cover design by Georgia Morrissey

 

Library of Congress Control Number: 2014915841

To anyone who has ever been so focused on a goal that they’ve forgotten to stop, take a breath, and embrace the moment that’s happening right now.

 

The best moments are usually unplanned. Never be too busy to experience them.

CHAPTER ONE

W
hat now?” Savannah pulled her gaze from the flashing blue lights in her rearview mirror back to the speedometer. “Seven over. Seriously?”

Traffic heading south out of DC had been a nightmare. Not that it was ever good, but today had been worse than normal. Or maybe it just seemed that way because she was headed where she didn’t want to go. She hadn’t been back to her hometown in . . . well, a long time . . . and that had been just fine by her. There wasn’t anything she needed back there. She’d been perfectly happy leaving all those memories back in Belles Corner. But when Aunt Cathy called out of the blue, hearing her voice—sounding like the old Aunt Cathy who used to be like a second mom to Savannah before everything went haywire in Belles Corner—had made it hard to say no to her request that she come back for the wedding.

If she was going to have to be there, she had every intention of making a good impression. There was no changing the past—or who her ex-husband was marrying—but the future was all hers. At least that was what Evelyn Biggens, her best friend and her boss at GetItNowNews.com, was always telling her.

Savannah had padded her travel time by two hours to compensate for the summer traffic. Once the interstate exits had started getting farther and farther apart, the traffic had thinned out too, and she’d thought it was going to be smooth sailing all the way to Belles Corner, North Carolina.

Fat chance.

The hustle of the city might be miles behind her, but getting stopped for a ticket would eat up her head start, and that cop car behind her didn’t look like it was going to zip around her to nab one of the other cars that she’d been keeping pace with.

“Please keep going,” she said as she eased off to the shoulder.

No such luck.

What had seemed like a pretty sure plan this morning was suddenly at risk.

Traffic sped past her southbound on I-95, all except that car with the bright blue blinking lights. He pulled to a stop right behind her.

“My lucky day,” she said with a groan. Savannah pressed the button to lower the window. She pasted her best wide-eyed I’m-not-pissed-off look on her face. Momma had said you catch more flies with honey, and that was a lesson she’d never forgotten. Lord knows, she got enough practice using this sweet expression at the office these days as she hid her real activity from everyone at GetItNowNews.

Only Evelyn and two others at the online paper knew she was the talent behind the witty, snarky, and at times downright shocking Advice from Van column on GetItNowNews. Speculation was that the person behind the column was a man. That had amused Savannah in the beginning, but she sure was tired of that gig now, even if it had garnered her an office, one of the few in cubicle world. It was small, but it came with one heck of a view, since it was just outside Evelyn’s office. It was no fun to get zero credit for the top-rated column, though. Since Van’s identity was kept on the down-low even from her coworkers, everyone assumed that Savannah was Evelyn’s assistant. At this rate, it might always look that way.

Who else would have such bad luck that an April Fool’s prank would end up with them in a two-year commitment? She should’ve known better than to go toe-to-toe with Evelyn. That woman was as savvy as they came, and Savannah knew she was lucky to be under her mentorship.

She still hadn’t figured out what exactly she would tell all those people back home in Belles Corner. Even if the gig wasn’t top secret and she
could
tell them about it, the people from her hometown wouldn’t be too impressed with her for writing that column.

Every kook and crazy across the nation had come out of the woodwork asking for advice on topics better left unmentioned. It was like their goal in life was to shock her, and since she’d started out as unshakable, she was getting a run for her money.

That’s what had her running late today. Her nine-to-five was always creeping into her private time and even weekends, and she was getting darned sick of it.

But as cranky as she was feeling, she had to admit that her mood just brightened a smidgen as she watched the officer approach her car. Probably about her age or not much older. Good-looking.
Really
good-looking. In fact, strangely familiar. She leaned out the window, then tugged her glasses off at just the moment he glanced down at her.

Sound innocent, get a warning, and get back on the road.
“Good morning. Something wrong, officer?” Her lead foot had given her plenty of practice in this, and usually it worked.

“License and registration, please.”

So you’re going to be like that? Fine.
“Yes, sir.” She smiled. He didn’t. She tugged the paperwork from the console and handed it his way.

“License?”

“Right.” She leaned toward the passenger seat and rummaged through her purse, coming up with everything but her driver’s license. She slipped a piece of gum from a pack and popped it into her mouth. “Gum?”

He didn’t look amused. “Do you have a license, ma’am?”

Lighten up, man.
“Yes. Yes, of course I have a license.” Finally, she laid her hand on her wallet. “Right here.” She snatched her driver’s license from its slot and handed it over.

As he took the license, she still had that I’ve-seen-this-guy-before feeling and just had to ask. “Do I know you?”

He glanced down at her license. “Being as you’re from Washington, DC, I don’t know how our paths would’ve crossed.”

“Oh.” His tone really said, “I’ve heard all this before.” Why did her mouth always act before her brain gave it permission?

His brows lifted and he gave her a little nod, as if he agreed with the thought running through her head. Was he some kind of mind reader?

“Thank you. I’ll be just a moment.”

She couldn’t pull her gaze from that side mirror as he walked away. Nice walk. Athletic types with light-blond coloring usually turned her head, but there was something about this brown-haired guy in a uniform that held her attention. Was it attraction, or more that he seemed familiar?

An insistent little
boing
came from the dashboard.
LOW FUEL
flashed on the display.

Why had she thought things would work out okay today?

At this rate she’d never make it to Belles Corner.

If only that were true. She wasn’t even halfway there yet, and the trip was making her more anxious by the mile. As if having to attend her ex-husband’s wedding wasn’t already bad enough.

Aunt Cathy had convinced her that it was important for her to be there when Tripp got remarried, or else people would talk. But that wasn’t what made her give in. It was that Aunt Cathy had apologized. After all these years, she’d said she was so sorry she hadn’t been there for Savannah when all that stuff happened with her parents. More importantly, she’d said she’d never blamed her. Aunt Cathy had always been her favorite, but when things went bad, everything she’d known in that town was different. Everybody. Everything.

If she went back, it would certainly slow down the rumor mill. At least for a little while. That was one thing you could count on in a small town. If they didn’t know the truth, they’d make up something that made sense to them, and somehow that always wound up worse. So she’d made peace with going back and showing her face after all these years.

The thought of that made her feel a little sick. Or maybe it was just the ticket. Or maybe the ticket was a sign of more trouble to come. It was bad news no matter how you looked at it.

Regrets. She had plenty, and now agreeing to make the hometown visit was inching toward the top of the list.

Think positive. Don’t put any negativity out into the universe and the universe won’t serve any up.

Evelyn was always preaching that to her.

Maybe enough time had passed that people wouldn’t remember the reason she’d left town.

Doubtful, but one could hope. Maybe they wouldn’t even notice her; then she could just say her hellos, dole out a few hugs, and get the heck out of Dodge. It’d been so long they might not even recognize her.

That was a laugh. If she believed that for even half a second, she wouldn’t have spent the better part of the week getting herself pulled together for this brief reunion. The time she’d spent on hair, nails, makeup, even waxing—which would go to waste—added up to more than she had spent on primping the whole time she was married to Tripp Cassidy. Which admittedly wasn’t much, since the marriage had lasted less than a year.

The officer tapped on the top of her car with the back of his hand.

Startled, she nearly choked on her gum as she left dreamland.

“Thank you, Ms. Dey. Do you know why I stopped you?” He barely gave her a glance as he handed back her license and registration.

“Not really.”

“Speeding.”

“Only seven over,” she said apologetically.

He lifted a brow. “Well, then you do know.”

“Don’t we get five or ten . . . like an unspoken rule or something?” She giggled, but even that didn’t raise a smile from the man wearing the badge.

“Uh, no. The sign says speed
limit
. That means the limit. At least around here.”

“Speed trap,” she mumbled.

“The speed limit is strictly enforced. The limit is clearly marked on the signs. It’s for your own safety, and for that of others traveling the highway.”

Blah, blah, blah.
She sucked in a breath to keep any more smarty-pants remarks from escaping her lips, but she still straightened in the leather seat, feeling ready to argue. That seldom worked out in situations like this. She swallowed back the sarcasm and gave in. “Look. I’m having an awful day. I’m late. I’m headed to Carolina to watch my ex-husband get remarried, because I don’t have a choice. He’s marrying my cousin. Younger cousin. Much younger cousin, and my whole family thinks I need to be there to show my support. It sucks, and I don’t want to do it. But here I am doing the right thing. And now this. And look. Look at that.” She stabbed a finger toward the dash. “I’m running out of gas. Literally and figuratively, as we speak.” She closed her eyes to keep the tears of frustration from escaping. “I know you don’t care. But it’s a bad day.”

“Your ex is marrying your cousin?” The officer tucked his book under his arm and crossed his arms. A smile spread across his face, showing a row of perfectly white teeth, forcing tiny wrinkles—like rays of sunshine—from the corners of his eyes. “You really
are
having a bad day.”

“Yes. Yes. I’m aware of that.” She forced herself to look him in the eye. He looked amused. Heck, they probably married cousins around here. And was that a smirk? She’d probably just offended him. Great. “She’s not a real cousin. A stepcousin by marriage. And why am I even telling you all of this? I’m sorry. Just give me the ticket. I earned it.”

“I guess when I mention your back tire looks low, it’s not going to make your day any better.”

“Please tell me you’re kidding.”

He tugged on his hat. “I never kid about safety, ma’am.”

She pushed the car door open and leaned out to look. She let out an audible groan and slammed the door. “Great. Just . . .”

“Sounds to me like you
just
could use a little break.” He pointed straight ahead. “Take that next exit to get gas. There’s a service station on your right, the Adams Grove Garage. You can’t miss it. Let Bobby take a quick look at that tire while you’re there. Just up Main Street on the right-hand side. I’ll follow you.”

“No ticket?”

He hesitated, but then he smiled. “No ticket. For the record, it was that whole ex-husband–cousin thing that saved you. That prom queen smile and sultry stuff . . . that doesn’t fly with me.”

So he had noticed.
I haven’t lost it.

“Buckle up and get going before you run out of gas.”

She turned to say thank you, but he was already walking away.

Suddenly, the day looked a little brighter, even if he had called her out on her efforts. She idled up the emergency lane in her Mini Cooper until there was a break in the traffic and then pulled back onto the highway toward the next exit.
Sultry? Never thought of myself as sultry before. I was just going for a little flirty.

As she approached the exit, he was still right behind her. She knew she should appreciate him following her to safety, but there was something about small-town cops, even after all these years, that still sent her nerves into fight-or-flight mode.

The exit dumped her just about a mile away from anything except for a dilapidated old feed store. Quite frankly, if he hadn’t been following her, she might have thought she’d taken the wrong exit.

Almost a mile up the road, a brightly painted sign in the median read
WELCOME TO ADAMS GROVE.

It had been a while since she’d been to a small town like this. In fact, this one didn’t seem so different from the one she’d grown up in.

Finally, just ahead she saw a canary-yellow service station canopy.
ADAMS GROVE GARAGE
stretched end-to-end in bold red letters across the front of the building.

She pulled up to the nearest pump, thankful that she’d made it without further incident.

A salt-and-pepper-haired man sauntered out of the building. “Good morning.”

“Good morning.” Savannah got out of the car, but the man was already popping open the gas tank door.

“Fill it up?”

She eyed him suspiciously. Bobby was the name embroidered on the patch on the left pocket of his uniform. “I can pump it myself.”

“Costs the same either way. May as well let me do it.”

It took her a second to decipher the deep Southern accent. Strangely Southern to still be right here in Virginia. “Um, okay.” Caught off guard, she did a goofy forward-back step like a bad cha-cha, trying to decide what the heck to do with herself. “My tire is low.” She pointed to the rear driver’s-side tire. “Hopefully, it just needs some air. Can you check that too?”

“Sure thing.” He pulled the handle from the pump and tugged a red shop rag from his back pocket.

BOOK: Barbecue and Bad News
8.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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