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LOWCOUNTRY BOOKSHOP
 

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LOWCOUNTRY BOOKSHOP


  Praise for the Liz Talbot Mystery Series

  “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

  “Boyer delivers a beach read filled with quirky, endearing characters and a masterfully layered mystery, all set in the lush lowcountry. Don’t miss this one!”

  – Mary Alice Monroe,

  New York Times Bestselling Author of A Lowcountry Wedding

  “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

  “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

  “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

  “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 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

  “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 Mystery Series

  “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

  “This brilliantly executed and well-defined mystery left me mesmerized by all things Southern in one fell swoop... this is the best book yet in this wonderfully charming series.”

  – Dru’s Book Musings

  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)

  LOWCOUNTRY BONFIRE (#6)

  LOWCOUNTRY BOOKSHOP (#7)

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  Copyright

  LOWCOUNTRY BOOKSHOP

  A Liz Talbot Mystery

  Part of the Henery Press Mystery Collection

  First Edition | May 2018

  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 © 2018 by Susan M. Boyer

  Author photograph by Mic Smith

  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: 978-1-63511-376-1

  Digital epub ISBN-13: 978-1-63511-377-8

  Kindle ISBN-13: 978-1-63511-378-5

  Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-63511-379-2

  Printed in the United States of America

  For my son,

  James Gregory Boyer, Jr.,

  with much love

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Heartfelt thanks to…

  …each and every reader. Because of you, I can live my dream.

  …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.

  …every member of my fabulous sprawling family for your enthusiastic support.

  …Gretchen Smith, my dear friend and partner in a great many shenanigans, for things too numerous to list.

  …Polly Buxton, for lending me your fabulous bookshop for this novel.

  …Julian Buxton, for lending me your equally fabulous tour company and “The Ghosts of Charleston” for this novel.

  …Jenna Craig, an early reader, for being a sounding board when I needed one.

  …my dear friends Marcia Migacz and Pat Werths, who can see my mistakes when I no longer can.

  …my dear friend Martha Rudisill, eleventh generation Charlestonian, for your continued enthusiastic assistance.

  …Kathie Bennett and Susan Zurenda at Magic Time Literary.

  …Rowe Carenen, The Book Concierge.

  …Jill Hendrix, owner of Fiction Addiction bookstore, for your ongoing support. I can’t imagine being on this journey without you.

  …Kendel Lynn and Art Molinares at Henery Press.

  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 prone to secrecy. Eighteen years ago, my best friend Colleen took the outbound train to the next world. She’s seen behind the curtain, knows the answers to a great many questions. But since she’s been back in her role as guardian spirit, she can’t share this information with me. It’s against the rules, that’s what she tells me.

  And then there are times when she keeps things to herself just for the pure-T fun of it—to toy with me. Colleen will be forever seventeen, the age she was that Friday night she drank tequila and went swimming in Breach Inlet. For all her insights into the universe, she won’t be getting more mature.

  The morning I first laid eyes on Poppy Oliver, it was Colleen’s idea to eat at Toast on Meeting Street. It wasn’t unusual for Colleen to make restaurant recommendations. She enjoyed food more than you might imagine given that she’s passed on and all. At the time I didn’t give it much thought. But had my sister, Merry, and I chosen any other restaurant for brunch that morning, our paths would not have crossed Poppy’s, and a great many things might be different.

  For weeks, Merry and I had planned on having brunch downtown before heading ove
r to King Street for some shopping. She was in the midst of preparing for what our family had taken to calling Merry and Joe’s Excellent Wedding Adventure—a three-week trip to Patagonia from which they would return married. Our parents were still sulking about being excluded. Okay, so was I. She was my only sister and she would only get married once. Well, that’s always the plan anyway. I digress.

  It was a girls’ day in Charleston, but, as usual, Merry had no idea there were three of us. I’ll always wonder if Colleen knew then where helping Poppy would lead. Colleen’s a stubborn spirit. Her lips are sealed.

  We were in a booth up front by a window looking out over Meeting Street, sipping mimosas. The cheery air of the restaurant—soft yellow walls, cream-colored pressed metal ceiling, and terra cotta tiled floors—stoked our festive mood. It was midmorning on a Saturday in August, and despite the sultry weather, both the streets of Charleston and Toast were humming with activity. The clop-clop of horseshoes on asphalt and the raised voice of a tour guide floated through the window pane as a horse drawn carriage filled with tourists rolled by.

  The waitress had just set plates in front of us, and Merry and I were busy divvying up our food so we could each have some of our two favorite things on the menu. I served her some of my Classic Breakfast—scrambled eggs with cheese, country ham, Carolina stone ground grits, and a massive buttermilk biscuit—while she sliced off some of her Deluxe French Toast with peaches and peach cider syrup for me. Colleen waited none-too-patiently beside me for her to-go order—ham biscuits.

  No one but me—and since the day of our wedding, my husband, Nate—could see or hear Colleen when she was in ghost mode, which was her default setting. Nate and I weren’t allowed to tell anyone else that Colleen still inhabited our world. As Colleen’s skill set had grown, she’d gained the ability to solidify when she needed to be seen, or when it suited her. The catch to that was she could never appear to anyone else who’d known her before she died. Guardian spirits can’t eat in ghost mode either. But when she solidified she had the appetite of a horse and a particular fondness for country ham biscuits.

  “I swear,” said Merry, “you are always carrying a to-go order for somebody. If it isn’t Nate, it’s Blake or Sonny or Daddy. You need to start charging for food delivery service. You know that’s going to be ruined before you get it home. After we’ve shopped all day….” She gave me a look that suggested I hadn’t thought this through.

  What she didn’t know was how often I told people the to-go order was for her. I shrugged. “Nate loves the biscuits here. What can I say?”

  I raised my mimosa and chose my words carefully.

  The food forgotten, sisterly love shone in Merry’s eyes. She raised her glass.

  I smiled, tried not to think about how I would miss her wedding. “To a once-in-a-lifetime trip and—”

  The door blew open and in strode Sonny Ravenel. Sonny has been our brother Blake’s best friend since forever. He’s also a Charleston police detective. Preoccupied by the mail carrier fast on his heels, he didn’t even notice us at first.

  “Please. If you’d just listen—” Her voice was earnest.

  I lowered my glass. Merry set hers down and turned in her seat to check out what was going on.

  Sonny smiled, nodded hello to the hostess, then turned back to the postwoman. Sporting twin brown ponytails and bangs, she looked like she was maybe twelve years old.

  “Miss Oliver.” Sonny’s voice was patient, kind. “I promise you, I heard everything you said. But I’m off duty right now, ma’am. I’m hungry, if you don’t mind. And I wouldn’t want to keep you from your appointed rounds. You have a nice day now.”

  “But Detective—”

  “I’m sure we’ll talk again soon.” He turned to the hostess. “One, please.”

  “Sonny,” I called.

  He caught my eye, lifted his chin. “I’ll join my friends.” When he walked towards our table, the mail carrier followed. Sonny stopped a few steps away, held two hands up in a halt gesture. “Enough. Please.”

  Her large brown eyes flooded with tears, her expression forlorn. She was in trouble. My protective instincts switched on.

  “Aww, c’mon now.” Sonny’s voice took on a plaintive note. “Please don’t cry.”

  “Wouldn’t you cry?” she asked. “If the police thought you’d killed someone and you knew you hadn’t done such a terrible, horrible, despicable thing? You’d cry too.” She nodded, sniffled, and blinked back the tears.

  I felt my eyebrows creep up my forehead. She was trim, fresh-faced, and neatly dressed in her blue shorts and light blue collared shirt. A ponytail touched each shoulder.

  “Surely to goodness Sonny is smarter than that.” Colleen employed the universal teenager-of-superior-intellect tone. She knew it all, just ask her.

  Sonny is plenty smart. I threw the thought at her. This was how we typically communicated when others were around. She frequently jabbered at me in public and liked nothing better than for me to forget who I was talking to and respond to her out loud. She could read minds, and if I focused my thoughts, we could carry on a conversation.

  If Sonny thought this woman was dangerous, she’d be locked up. Anyway, murderers don’t always look the part. I could recall a few surprises in my career as a private investigator. Still, the mail carrier seemed the poster child for wholesomeness.

  “Miss Oliver,” said Sonny, “perhaps it would be best if you went ahead and retained that attorney after all.”

  “I already told you I can’t afford one. And I didn’t do anything. Why do I need an attorney if I didn’t do anything but try to help a man who someone else ran over?”

  “Because an attorney can answer questions, advise you on the process. And perhaps he can convince you how it’s a bad idea to stalk the detective assigned to your case,” said Sonny.

  “You think I’m stalking you?” She straightened her shoulders, drew back her chin. “I am not stalking you. I’m on my route. I bring the mail here six days a week. Are you stalking me?”

  “No ma’am. I’m just trying to have some breakfast.”

  “Fine.” She swiped at her cheeks. Her voice swelled with indignation. “You just enjoy your breakfast. I hope you savor ev-ery single bite. And while you’re chewing your eggs, I hope you think about how you’re ruining the life of an innocent person who was trying to help. And you think really hard about what I told you. Mr. Drayton…he wasn’t a good man. There might’ve been a reason why someone wanted to run over him, but it wasn’t me, okay?”

  “So you’ve told me.” Sonny stared at her, his look telegraphing how his patience was all used up. “Several times now.”

  “Fine.” She slapped two envelopes down on the counter and stormed out the door.

  Sonny muttered a curse, hovered on my side of the booth waiting for me to slide over. He and I were both partial to the side of any booth that faced the door. Colleen popped out and reappeared beside Merry just as he dropped onto the bench next to me.

  Our waitress stared at the retreating mail carrier as she handed Sonny a menu. “Bless her heart. It’s no wonder the postal workers are snapping, as hot as it is.”

  He waved the menu away. “Coffee, please. And I’d like the Eggs Meeting Street. And a Bloody Mary, extra bacon.”

  “I’m surprised to see you here,” I said. “Does Moon know you’re having breakfast at other restaurants?” Moon Unit Glendawn owned The Cracked Pot, the diner on Stella Maris, the nearby sea island my family called home. Sonny had been dating her for the past few months.

  “It hasn’t come up” said Sonny. “But I imagine she knows I eat breakfast on days I don’t take the ferry over first thing.”

  Our waitress set Sonny’s coffee in front of him. He downed half a cup. “Y’all go ahead and eat now. Don’t let your food get cold.”

  “What’s up with the mail carrier?” I put tog
ether a bite of eggs and ham.

  Sonny winced. “She was involved in a hit and run Thursday night.”

  “How awful,” said Merry.

  “She was just trying to help,” said Colleen. “She neither hit nor run.”

  “She said she only tried to help the victim,” I said.

  “Yeah, well,” said Sonny. “Might be she’s just too scared to admit she hit the guy. It was pouring down rain—streets were flooded. Maybe he walked out in front of her, who knows? But he’s dead, and she was on the scene.”

  “You said it was a hit and run,” I said. “But clearly she didn’t. Run, I mean.”

  “To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know what happened,” said Sonny. “Yet. I’m calling it a hit and run for the time being because I do know the victim was hit by a car. If it wasn’t her car, and so far I haven’t proven that it was, then it was a hit and run.”

  “We need to help her,” said Colleen.

  “Where was the accident?” I asked.

  “Near the Lower Battery. Murray Boulevard and Lenwood. Outside the victim’s home,” said Sonny. “Phillip Drayton is the deceased.”

  Phillip Drayton. That name rang bells. “Banker of some sort? On the boards of several local charities?”

  “You’re thinking about his father,” said Sonny. “One of the pillars of our community. He passed five years back. Phillip junior was more a professional man about town. Restaurant critic on the side.”

  “I think I’ve read his blog,” said Merry.

 
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