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Authors: Brianna Bates

Book Club Bloodshed

BOOK: Book Club Bloodshed
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Book Club Bloodshed
is the second story in the Missy DeMeanor Cozy Mystery Series, but these books can be enjoyed in any order. However, if you absolutely must begin with the first book in a series, please check out
Flea Market Fatal
first.

 

Who knew Book Clubs could be so dangerous?

Not Missy DeMeanor. At last week’s meeting, her best friend Noreen nearly came to blows with Anne Baxter over the merits of the book they were reading. After that unprecedented outburst, Missy never in a million years thought Anne Baxter would turn up dead in the middle of the next meeting.

Everyone immediately suspects Missy’s best friend, Noreen. Even her high school sweetheart and the current chief detective, Tyler Brock, thinks Noreen is guilty, leaving Missy no choice but to once again assume the mantel of private (but unpaid) investigator, only this time to prove her best friend’s innocence.

With the odds against her, Missy embarks on an investigation that dredges up long-standing grudges and some of the town’s deepest, darkest secrets. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, can Missy exonerate her friend…and keep off the fifteen pounds she just lost?

Book Club Bloodshed
is a cozy mystery with plenty of twists, turns, humor, and a little bit of romance.

Book Club Bloodshed

 

Brianna Bates

Chapter One

 

Melissa, a.k.a. Missy, DeMeanor loved her best friend, Noreen, to death. But even she had to admit that Noreen suffered from momentary lapses in sanity.

“You are such a snob!” Noreen blurted out.

The alleged snob in question, a woman named Anne Baxter, sat up stiffly in her chair. “When it comes to books, yes! I’m a snob! I’m a snob because I expect what I’m reading to be good.”

Noreen shook her head. They were sitting in the public library for this week’s Book Club meeting. Ruby Kellogg worked at the library and got to use the space after hours for their group. It probably looked odd to see this group of eight women sitting in a dark library, drinking wine and eating finger food, but they had all gotten used to it pretty quickly.

The women sat in a circle around the table from the children’s section that Ruby always had in place for them. Two bottles of wine were open, and a third was on deck.

Last week, Noreen and Anne had nearly come to blows about last month’s book. Missy had to literally step between them in the parking lot. Noreen was passionate about many things, but about books she had the attitude of a zealot. If she liked something, that meant it was good. Anybody that disagreed needed to be made to see the light.

Early on, Missy had pleaded with her to tone it down. She feared Noreen’s big personality would drive people away. It hadn’t. Yet. And Missy was beginning to think that people came in part to see the inevitable outraged outburst from her. It was a big part of the entertainment.

But Anne Baxter was no shrinking violet. Her family owned the local chain of grocery stores so she was part of the gentry in Grove City. Like her father, and his father, and his father, and his father, et cetera, Anne Baxter did not back down in the face of a challenge. Her family had risen in status for that reason.

In reality, Anne was a bit of a snob so she wasn’t about to let Noreen, who worked in a used bookstore, dress her down, especially not in front of other people. No way.

Missy sat forward, hoping to put the pin back in this proverbial grenade. “Guys, it’s just a book. We can agree to disagree. Maybe we should move on.”

Anne smiled at her and there was nothing friendly about it. “Books aren’t
just
books, Missy. I mean, isn’t that why we’re here? We take one night out of our week to meet and talk about literature because it means something. Books are important. They should be good.”

Noreen pointed at her. “You don’t like anything that’s genre—”

Anne shrugged and turned her haughty stare at Noreen. “I’ve admitted before I prefer literature to genre.”

Noreen talked right over her. “And you’re obviously biased against anything that’s self-published, like this book is.”

Anne bowed, like Noreen had just complimented her. “I am. Self-published books need to prove to me they’re worthy of my time.”

Missy quickly surveyed the room. The rest of the women looked uncomfortable, especially the librarian, Ruby herself. She was ten years younger than the rest of them and was probably nervous that a fight would break out—it had almost happened last week—and something would be destroyed.

“I don’t think it’s
that
bad,” Ruby said. “I mean, it’s the author’s first book.”


Citizen Kane
was Orson Welles’s first movie,” Anne said. “And that was quite good.”

Noreen shook her head. “Oh come on. It was his first
movie
, but he’d been in show business since he was a boy. He’d done a lot of radio and acting before that. Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Fine.” Anne inclined her chin. “Then let’s talk about one of your genre authors. Wasn’t
Carrie
Stephen King’s first book?”

Noreen stood. “You’re unbelievable. This book isn’t even bad. Sure it has some problems but on the whole it’s good. You just can’t help but look down your nose at it. Just like you do everything else.”

Anne’s cool demeanor finally heated up. “And you have no taste! You enjoy everything you read!”

Noreen balled her fists. “Because I’m not close-minded.”

Anne was standing now too. “And I’ll tell everyone I know to avoid this book at all costs. The tone changes from one chapter to the next, the killer comes out of nowhere in the third act, and the dialog comes across like it was written by a ten year old or somebody who’s had no real life experience.”

“Oh, nice. You’d go out of your way to trash something?”

Anne stepped toward Noreen. “Yes, because it wasted my precious resource: my time. I’ll never get that back. Forget the five bucks I spent. That’s nothing. But my time? It was wasted. I
owe
this book a bad review. Hopefully the author will learn a thing or two.”

Anne, like several of the other women in the room, maintained her own book review blog. She usually posted a couple reviews per week because she was a natural speed-reader, as she made sure to constantly remind people.

“Why don’t you just leave it?” Noreen said. “You’re not going to provide the author with any meaningful feedback or constructive criticism. You just go for snark in your reviews, which, talk about a waste of time. What’s the point?”

“Yeah, Anne. What’s the point?” Kylie Thompson spoke for the first time.

Missy felt the situation was about to get away from them.

Anne was rearing back to strike. Missy was out of her seat and forced herself between the two women. She knew Noreen could handle herself. In grade school she’d fought a boy and was actually winning before the teacher aides separated the two. But she also figured that Anne could handle herself too. The woman was in remarkable and enviable shape for being forty years old. Missy had seen her last summer at the pool (one of Missy’s least favorite places) and witnessed firsthand the woman’s well-defined six pack and gravity-defying rump. Anne exercised religiously and Missy knew from previous conversations that she loved kickboxing.

“Okay, let’s take a break,” Missy said. “This is getting out of control.”

Noreen pointed at Anne over Missy’s shoulder. “Why do you even come to our meetings? All you ever do is talk about how much you hate whatever book we’re reading. The only time you speak favorably about anything is when it’s the book you picked!”

“I could say the same about you!” Anne roared. “All you ever talk about is how much you love every book we read. That adds nothing to the conversation!”

“Ladies, please!” Missy had to raise her voice. She instinctively reached out in both directions. By accident, her right hand landed squarely on one of Anne’s breasts. It took her a moment to realize what she was grabbing, but when it dawned on her, she was horrified.

Anne wasn’t bothered though. “Pretty firm, isn’t it?”

Missy’s face was on fire. She took her hands off Noreen and Anne. “Let’s take a break.”

The rest of the women agreed quickly and got up to stretch their legs, with the exception of Ruby. She was twenty-six, but Missy still thought of her as a girl because she’d babysat her in high school. Ruby’s eyes were lowered and she looked ready to cry.

Missy slid into the seat next to her. “Ruby, you okay?”

Ruby nodded and put on a smile. “Yes…sorry.”

“What’s up?”

“We’re supposed to be enjoying this, you know? We’re not supposed to come here and argue all the time.”

Missy didn’t think they argued
all the time
but didn’t want to be contrary. Ruby was obviously upset and disagreeing with her openly wouldn’t help at all.

“There are a lot of big personalities in here, aren’t there?”

Ruby nodded sadly. “I just don’t like conflict.”

“Me neither.” Missy
hated
conflict. It made her think about her near-death experience last fall, when Gordon Cooper had put his hands around her neck. And it made her think about her high school sweetheart and current chief detective of the local police force, Tyler Brock. He had come back to town after a long absence and they had reconnected. Missy still had feelings for him, and she was sure he harbored some for her also. He was separated from his wife, but they were apparently trying to work things out.

And it made her think of Mom. Very briefly, Mom had been a suspect in Albert Switzer’s murder but she’d been able to provide an alibi to the police. An alibi she refused to share with her own daughter.

Missy sighed. “For what it’s worth, I think this is a good book.”

Ruby’s eyes lit up. She’d been the one to suggest this cozy mystery novel. Normally the group read traditionally published books because most of the women preferred their books to be vetted before they read them. They’d made an exception because Ruby had pushed hard for this one, though now that they were reading it, Missy realized Ruby had had the least to say about it.

“Oh, thanks.” She smiled shyly. “I’m glad I’m not wasting everybody’s time at least.”

“Don’t worry about Anne Baxter.” Missy put an arm around her shoulder. “At one point or another, she has offended everybody in this room. Except me. I mean, she basically stole Ellen Stein’s boyfriend and married him. She bought that land that Trudy was interested in. She fired Kylie’s brother from the deli because he’d been drinking on the job…the list goes on and on. Truth be told, I don’t think she’s long for this Book Club.”

“We’ve been meeting for over a year now,” Ruby said sadly, basically saying that Anne was here to stay.

Missy shrugged. “She does have a suit of armor. Only Noreen gets under her skin, I think.”

Ruby looked away and stood. “I’m going outside for a few minutes.”

Missy was left alone. She eyed the wine bottles, which were out of place on the children’s table in the middle of the room. So far she’d been good. In the last two months she’d lost some weight and many inches in all the right places. Wine wasn’t that bad when it came to calories in and of itself. The real problem was when she drank, it made her hungry and lowered her inhibitions.

She really wavered on whether to have a glass or not. On the one hand, she’d stuck to this latest diet and was seeing results. On the other hand, she could have used one night where she didn’t have to worry about food. It was exhausting to have to constantly think about it.

“You only live once,” she said to herself. Missy poured herself a tiny glass of pinot grigio and sipped. It was so good. And like that, she wanted to have some crackers to go with it.

Everybody took a long break. It was ten minutes before they all took their seats. Missy smelled smoke on Noreen. Cigarettes to Noreen were like food to Missy. A bad habit both struggled constantly to break. Missy smiled at Noreen, who didn’t return the gesture. She looked preoccupied, probably still thinking about the fight. Her hands fidgeted and she tugged on not one but two broken nails.

Ellen Stein poured herself another glass of wine. Missy noticed her hand shaking as she did and thought it odd. Maybe Ellen had a nervous tic she’d never caught before?

Trudy waited the longest to sit. She was busy quickly typing a text message to somebody.

All the chairs were occupied. All but Anne Baxter’s. Missy looked around but didn’t see her anywhere.

“Where’s Anne?” she asked.

Noreen rolled her eyes. “Who cares?”

Missy did her best to hide a smile. She didn’t like Anne much either, but felt it would have been rude to start without her.

Gloria Campbell, Anne’s only outspoken friend on the group, leveled her brown eyes on Noreen. “We’re not starting without her.”

“I’m not going to start without her,” Missy said. “Did anybody see her?”

“She was outside,” Ellen said. As she sipped her wine, Missy noticed her hand was still shaking. Come to think of it, Ellen had been acting strangely all night. As a local reporter, Ellen was normally full of comments about the author’s style, typically complaining about how long-winded fiction writers could be. As a person who had to write quickly and had little space to tell her story, everybody took her opinion on that matter with a grain of salt.

“Was she on the phone, maybe?” Missy asked.

Ruby sat up. “Maybe we should just go look? She’s always getting calls, you know.”

It was true. Rare was the Book Club meeting where Anne Baxter did not get at least three calls and a dozen texts. Nobody (except Noreen) begrudged her for this because she was busy helping her father run three grocery stores.

“I’ll check,” Gloria said. She was the oldest in the group, almost fifty, and had a bad knee, but Missy noticed she was moving much more stiffly than usual tonight. She wondered if Gloria had hurt herself.

Gloria went outside. While they waited, Missy couldn’t resist the urge to eat a few crackers. No doubt the two hundred calories would go straight to her derriere. Everybody waited patiently, and quietly—except Noreen, who made sure to sigh her impatience loudly and frequently.

Missy heard the door open behind her. “We’re almost out of time, so we can—”

It was just Gloria, and her eyes were bulging. Her chest heaved. She had to rest her hands on her thighs and bend over.

“Call the police!” Gloria said.

BOOK: Book Club Bloodshed
8.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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