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Authors: Susan M. Boyer

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LOWCOUNTRY BOOK CLUB

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Praise for the Liz Talbot Mystery Series

  

LOWCOUNTRY BORDELLO (#4)

 

“The authentically Southern Boyer writes with heart, insight, and a deep understanding of human nature.”

– Hank Phillippi Ryan,

Agatha Award-Winning Author of
What You See

 

“An exciting, humorous mystery…authentically Southern. I absolutely love reading about my hometown and have been known to go check out a location to see if she got it right—she always does!”

– Martha Thomas Rudisill,

Artist and 11th Generation Charlestonian

 

“Southern family eccentricities and manners, a very strongly plotted mystery, and a heroine who must balance her nuptials with a murder investigation ensure that readers will be vastly entertained by this funny and compelling mystery.”

– Kings River Life Magazine

 

LOWCOUNTRY BONEYARD (#3)

 

“Has everything you could want in a traditional mystery…I enjoyed every minute of it.”

– Charlaine Harris,

New York Times
Bestselling Author of
Day Shift

 

“Like the other Lowcountry mysteries, there's tons of humor here, but in
Lowcountry Boneyard
there's a dash of darkness, too. A fun and surprisingly thought-provoking read.”

–
Mystery Scene Magazine

 

“The local foods sound scrumptious and the locale descriptions entice us to be tourists...the PI detail is as convincing as Grafton.”

–
Fresh Fiction

 

LOWCOUNTRY BOMBSHELL (#2)

 

“Boyer delivers big time with a witty mystery that is fun, radiant, and impossible to put down. I love this book!”

– Darynda Jones,

New York Times
Bestselling Author

 


Lowcountry Bombshell
is that rare combination of suspense, humor, seduction, and mayhem, an absolute must-read not only for mystery enthusiasts but for anyone who loves a fast-paced, well-written story.”

– Cassandra King,

Author of
The Same Sweet Girls
and
Moonrise

 

“A complicated story that's rich and juicy with plenty of twists and turns. It has lots of peril and romance—something for every cozy mystery fan.”

–
New York Journal of Books

 

LOWCOUNTRY BOIL (#1)

 

“Imaginative, empathetic, genuine, and fun,
Lowcountry Boil
is a lowcountry delight.”

– Carolyn Hart,

Author of
What the Cat Saw

 


Lowcountry Boil
pulls the reader in like the draw of a riptide with a keeps-you-guessing mystery full of romance, family intrigue, and the smell of salt marsh on the Charleston coast.”

– Cathy Pickens,

Author of the
Southern Fried
Mysteries
and
Charleston Mysteries

 

“Plenty of secrets, long-simmering feuds, and greedy ventures make for a captivating read…Boyer's chick lit PI debut charmingly showcases South Carolina island culture.”

—
Library Journal

Books in the Liz Talbot Mystery Series

by Susan M. Boyer

  

LOWCOUNTRY BOIL (#1)

LOWCOUNTRY BOMBSHELL (#2)

LOWCOUNTRY BONEYARD (#3)

LOWCOUNTRY BORDELLO (#4)

LOWCOUNTRY BOOK CLUB (#5)

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Copyright

 

LOWCOUNTRY BOOK CLUB

A Liz Talbot Mystery

Part of the Henery Press Mystery Collection

 

First Edition | July 2016

 

Henery Press

www.henerypress.com

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Henery Press, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

Copyright © 2016 by Susan M. Boyer

Author photograph by Phil Hyman Photography

 

This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

Trade Paperback ISBN-13: 978-1-63511-045-6

Digital epub ISBN-13: 978-1-63511-046-3

Kindle ISBN-13: 978-1-63511-047-0

Hardcover Paperback ISBN-13: 978-1-63511-048-7

 

Printed in the United States of America

Dedication

  

For my daughter,

(picky people will want to add the word ‘step' in there, but I never do)

Jennifer Elaine Boyer Teague,

with much love

and with gratitude for all the things you've taught me.

One of the more memorable is that I should make Dad

a tomato sandwich with a lot of mayonnaise for dinner

so I can get to my workout.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  

Heartfelt thanks to…

 

…each and every reader—you make my life possible.

 

…booksellers, you are rock stars. To those of you who stock the Liz Talbot Mysteries and recommend them to your customers, I am forever in your debt.

 

…Jim Boyer, my wonderful husband, best friend, and fiercest advocate, thank you could never cover it, nevertheless, thank you for everything you do to help me live my dream.

 

…everyone at Henery Press—Kendel Lynn, Art Molinares, Erin George, Rachel Jackson, and Stephanie Chontos, this book is better because of all of you. Thank you for all you do. I count myself as very fortunate to be a Henery Press author.

 

…Mary Alice Monroe for the lovely cover blurb for this book. I'm delighted beyond measure.

 

…my dear friends Martha and Mary Rudisill, eleventh and twelfth-generation Charlestonians, respectively, thank you for your continued enthusiastic assistance.

 

…Gretchen Smith, my dear friend and partner in a great many shenanigans—you know what you did.

 

…the word's best sister, Sabrina Niggle, who finds my mistakes when I can no longer see them.

 

…the world's best mom, and very likely the world's most voracious reader, Claudette Jones.

 

…my dear friend Marcia Migacz, who I swear has eagle eyes.

 

…Amy Wilson, Vice President, Development at One80Place, for her input. I'm in awe of the work they do on behalf of those in need.

 

Special thanks to the ‘guest stars' in this book. Angela McConnell and Mary Bernard won appearances through generous contributions to charities near and dear to my heart, Ada Jenkins Center and Greenville Literacy Association, respectively. Also appearing is Mariel Camp, who was the first member of a book club I visited to suggest
Lowcountry Book Club
as a title. Additional guest stars are the remaining members of Books & Wine with Wendi, a local book club that always welcomes me. Its members are enthusiastic supporters of Liz Talbot: Liz Bell, Erin Guidici, Anne Spence, Nerissa (whose last name isn't Long) and a return engagement from Heather Wilder who wants to marry Blake Talbot. None of these guest stars are anything like the characters in the book.

 

As always, unending thanks to Kathie Bennett and Susan Zurenda at Magic Time Literary.

 

Thank you, Claire McKinney and Larissa Ackerman at ClaireMcKinneyPR. I'm excited about what the future holds.

 

Thank you always, Jill Hendrix, owner of Fiction Addiction book store, for your ongoing support.

 

As always, I'm terrified I've forgotten someone. If I have, please know it was unintentional and in part due to sleep deprivation. I am truly grateful to everyone who has helped me along this journey.

ONE

  

The dead are not abundantly sympathetic to their own. My best friend, Colleen, passed through the veil and into the great mystery eighteen years ago next month. She shed no tears over Shelby Scott Poinsett Gerhardt.

The photos of Shelby sprawled lifeless as a rag doll in the brick courtyard of her Tradd Street home would haunt me. I passed them to Nate, who was seated on my right in Fraser Rutledge's office. Fraser was the senior partner at Rutledge and Radcliffe, a prestigious Charleston law firm.


She'll be much happier now.” Colleen's tone rang casual to my ear. She should be ashamed of herself.

Colleen read my mind, literally.


What?” Her jade green eyes telegraphed impatience.

Shelby was taken before her time. She'll be back with a mission soon enough. I hear tell helping others is what this woman lived for. Leaving this life is not the tragedy you mortals think it is. It's true what they say. She's in a better place.”

I closed my eyes in an effort to shut her out. She was a distraction in her blue polka dot sundress, a wide-brimmed hat atop her long red curls, perched as she was on the corner of Fraser Alston Rutledge III's heirloom desk. Of course only Nate and I could see or hear her.

Nate cleared his throat, muttered something.

I made out the words

control
” and

ghost.”

I gave my head a little shake. As if. Nate was still coming to terms with Colleen. Right up until we'd said our

I Dos” in December, he'd been blissfully unaware of her presence in our lives. It was early May, and he still had a ways to go.


Am I somehow failing to hold your interest?”
Fraser
elongated each syllable, his honeyed drawl spiked with
irritation.

My eyes popped open. I felt at a disadvantage. We sat on the other side of his desk in his elegantly appointed Broad Street law office. Everything about the man and his surroundings, from the oil painting of him with two Brittany spaniels hanging on the cypress-paneled wall, to the black and white striped bowtie he wore with his grey seersucker suit, testified that his bona fides were in order, his Charleston heritage long and storied.

Fraser studied me.


Quite to the contrary.” Nate's easy tone sought to diffuse Fraser'
s pique.
“We
'll hold our questions for when you've finished outlining the case against your client. We're eager to help, if we can.”


Please continue,” I said.


You appear somewhat distracted.” Fraser looked from me to Nate.

We cannot afford to piss away any more time. Our former investigator twiddled his Johnson for four months, billed us a sultan's ransom, and found not one solitary shred of information we can use. Jury selection begins in two weeks.”

I looked past Colleen directly into Fraser's eyes. They were tiger eyes, gold and speckled with brown.

You were telling us about your client.”


Clint Gerhardt.” Eli Radcliffe didn't quite spit the name out of his mouth, but he managed to convey his disapproval of Clint Gerhardt and all his ancestors. Eli, Fraser's partner, sat to my left in one of four deep leather visitor chairs.

Naturally, we want to be as prepared as possible.”


He doesn't
believe Clint Gerhardt is innocent.
” Sometimes Colleen could read other minds besides mine.

He's mad as blazes at his partner.”

You think?
I threw the sarcasm-laced thought in her direction. Apparently, the message was also inscribed on my face.

Fraser caught my expression. He drew back, his visage washed in incredulity.

Let him interpret that look however he pleased. I was exhausted from listening to him talk. Why was Eli so mad at Fraser?


Eli.
” I rolled my voice in sugar sprinkles.

I'd love to hear your take on the case. Is there an avenue you think we should pursue first?”

From the corner of my eye, I caught Fraser's raised eyebrow.

By all means, Eli. Enlighten them.”

Eli inhaled deeply, averted his soft brown eyes.

I scrutinized his profile. Flawless skin, the color of milk chocolate truffles, high cheekbones, and a strong chin made for a noble countenance. They were a study in similarities and contrasts, these three Southern men. All were well-educated, well-groomed, and fit. All spoke the native language of our people, understood the context words carried here. All had lovely drawls. Nate was the blue-eyed, blond-haired, laid-back prototype; Fraser the wealthy, eccentric, Old Charleston model; and Eli the self-made, cautious, black man.

Eli said,

It doesn't matter what I think. Our client is innocent until proven guilty. We need to mount a vigorous defense, with a credible theory of the crime that does not include Clint Gerhardt throwing his wife out the second floor french doors of their home. Confidentially, Mrs. Gerhardt was prone to taking in strays. Most people, certainly the police, think Mr. Gerhardt is one she should've left at the pound.”

Fraser slammed his palm on his desk.

Dammit
, Eli.

Fraser
's wild-eyed expression was that of a street-corner preacher with his soul on fire for The Lord. His brown hair, combed back on the sides, sported sufficient gel that every strand on top stood straight up on end, giving him the look of someone who'd suffered a recent electrical shock. The overall effect announced he was a character. But he was an extremely successful character. At forty, Fraser Alston Rutledge III had a winning record that rivaled that of any Charleston attorney.

He stood and went to testifying.

Shelby Poinsett was an angel put on this earth by God Almighty himself. She had a heart as big as the Atlantic. Yes, dammit, she took in strays of all kinds, animals—hell, her house is a damn petting zoo—people…It didn't matter if you were looking up to catch a fading glimmer of rock bottom, Shelby cared about your
po-ten-tial
. When I was a pimply thirteen-year-old geek whose daddy went to prison for securities fraud, Shelby took me under her wing and double-dog dared anyone at Porter-Gaud Middle to make fun of me.
I
, Eli, am one of Shelby's strays.”

Eli
's shoulders rose and fell.

Fraser, I'm well aware of your history with the victim and her husband, our client. Which is one of the many reasons I believe taking this case was a mistake.”

Eli struck me as one who was careful with his words. He must've wanted this noted on the record between us.

Fraser placed his palms on his desk and leaned across it. Like the best Southern preachers, there was a cadence in his speech as it rose and fell. It was hypnotic, poetic, regardless of the words.

Clint Gerhardt adored his wife. He was as devoted to her as any man who ever walked this earth has ever been to a woman. He would've died protecting her. I am telling you. I
know
. Clint did not kill Shelby. And I will be damned if I sit idly by while he is railroaded to death row because he is from, saints preserve us all,
off
. And because some folks hear the words Army Ranger and are convinced he is a violent man.”

Charleston natives often referred to those who'd arrived after birth as being from off. The farther away you came from, the more of your history they'd need to know before they fully accepted you. Unless of course they knew your people.

Eli stared at the wall of bookcases behind Fraser's desk looking like maybe he'd heard this sermon a time or two. He was neither intimidated nor impressed by his partner's theatrics.

Bottom line. The Gerhardts were at home alone on December 28. At approximately nine p.m., Mrs. Gerhardt was pushed from the french doors of the second-floor library. She died of head injuries. Mr. Gerhardt maintains he was in his third-floor study listening to music. He discovered Mrs. Gerhardt's body when he came downstairs at eleven. He then called 911. Mr. Gerhardt has no knowledge of anyone else being inside the home. Mrs. Gerhardt had no known enemies, and Paul Baker, our erstwhile in-house investigator, uncovered none during his
investigation.

Fraser stared at me, taking my measure.

Wally Fayssoux up in Greenville says the two of you are the best investigators in the state. High praise. You have certainly been in the Charleston news of late. However, I remain unconvinced that is an advantage.”

Nate leaned back in his chair, likely forming a thoughtful response.

I said,
“We
've been in the news, Mr. Rutledge, because we solve cases.”


Miz
Talbot, all due respect, but if I did not know that, we would not be having this conversation.”

I resisted the urgent need to liberate him from his burdensomely high self-regard.

The only way being in the news could hamper our effectiveness,” I said, “would be if our faces were familiar. You may have noticed how our photographs are missing from the occasional mention in the
Post and Courier
. Very few people in this city could pick us out of a lineup. Why, I'd lay odds you yourself had no idea what we looked like before we walked in.”


As a matter of fact, I did not.” Fraser tilted his head in consideration.

All right then. Show me what you can do. Impress me, and this could turn out to be a very lucrative situation for you long term. It will save time if you read through the case file before we get to your questions.” He tapped his index finger on the thick stack of documents and photos in the folder lying open in the center of his desk.

What say we meet again tomorrow morning, ten o'clock.” He raised his voice.

Mercedes.

Mercedes glided into the room. Tall and pale with a long neck, her blonde hair, an array of shades similar to mine, was pulled up into a smooth chignon.

Fraser said,

Mercedes, get Mr. Andrews and Miz Talbot a copy of everything we have on Clint and Shelby.”


It's waiting for them out front,” she said.


Why, of course it is,” Fraser said.

You keep this place running, don't you, darlin'
?
” He flipped through the retainer agreement in front of him, initialing where indicated, and then dashed a signature on two copies and handed the documents to Mercedes.

File one of these. The other belongs to our potential investigative team.”

Mercedes handed me our copy and was back out the door as we stood.

Fraser watched her go.

She prefers women. Damned unfortunate waste, but it keeps things simple around the office. My wife purely has no patience with me sleeping with the help.”

Just then I was thinking how Mrs. Rutledge must have the patience of a saint. My mouth itched to open and opine as much. Nate read my mood, reached out and touched my arm.

It was a pleasure meeting you both.” He offered Eli his right hand.

Eli nodded.

I look forward to working with you.”

Fraser walked around the side of his desk. He smiled at me with genuine warmth, then took Nate's hand and patted him on the back.

You have got yourself a tiger by the tail, don't you, son
?


Mr. Rutledge, I don't have a grip at all,” said Nate.

On the Broad Street sidewalk, less than a block from East Bay, we turned away from the Old Exchange and headed west. We'd parked on the street between State and Church. Nate and I each carried two file boxes' worth of the Gerhardt case. We'd have to work all night to get through this and be back by ten the next morning. Whatever it took. Fraser's poignant recollections of little Shelby sticking up for him in the schoolyard, coupled with the photographs documenting how her life had been abruptly cut short, had stirred my need to set things right. As right as they could now be set anyway.

Colleen trailed behind us.

Nate said,

Colleen, it's not my intention to sound ungrateful for your help, but there are times when I would be in your debt if you could just stay in the background. Behind me, where I can't see you, would be ideal.”


There's no connection to my mission here,” she said.

I'm going to be of limited help. Strictly protection.”

Colleen'
s mission
—what she was sent back from beyond to do—is to protect Stella Maris, the barrier island northeast of Charleston, South Carolina, where our hometown by the same name was situated. Stella Maris chiefly required defense from those who would like to line our pristine beaches with hotels, condos, and all manner of commercial enterprise. Since I was on the town council and heavily invested in maintaining the quality of our small-town life, protecting me was part of Colleen's job.

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