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A fundraising party goes south in a delightful cozy mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of Southern Discomfort and the Java Jive novels
Quinn Bellandini is ready to get back to running her grandfather’s B&B in Savannah, Georgia, with her sister, Delilah—but first, she has to coordinate a fundraising event at the house of local philanthropists, with the help of her boyfriend, Tucker Heyward. Everything is running smoothly until Quinn’s friend, Pepper Fox, frantically calls her with the horrifying news that the lady of the house was found dead. Pepper’s brother, who was working as a caterer, is soon charged with her murder.
Pepper knows her brother didn’t commit the crime and asks Quinn, now a veteran detective with two solved murders under her belt, to prove his innocence. Quinn can’t bear to see her friend upset and enlists Delilah and Tucker to help investigate.
The invite list quickly turns into the suspect list as tensions mount and old feuds are brought to light. Could Quinn have hired the only catering company in Georgia that throws in a murder on the side?
Discover all of Caroline Fardig’s gripping Southern B&B mysteries: SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT | SOUTHERN HARM | SOUTHERN DOUBLE CROSS And don’t miss Caroline Fardig’s thrilling Java Jive mysteries, which can be read together or separately: DEATH BEFORE DECAF | MUG SHOT | A WHOLE LATTE MURDER | BREW OR DIE | MURDER OVER MOCHAS
Under the Cover
An excerpt from Southern Double Cross
“Would you mind terribly to take this bouquet of flowers and set it on the registration table?” I asked one of the waitstaff, who was walking that way. I had a million little things to do and not enough time to do them.
The man stopped and stared at me for a moment. “That is not my job. And I don’t know you.”
I gave him a pleasant smile. “My name is Quinn Bellandini, and I’m a member of the committee in charge of this event. Would you mind helping me out? I’d very much appreciate your help with the flowers, and you seem to be headed in that direction anyway.”
His face twisted into a scowl. “You’re not my boss.”
Keeping my smile in place, I said, “I’ve got the checkbook to pay your boss.”
He rolled his eyes and grabbed the flowers out of my hands. “Fine. Whatever.” He stalked over to the registration table and slammed the bouquet of flowers down onto it.
I winced. The unpleasant exchange I’d had with the waiter had wasted the time I saved by not walking over there myself. Why couldn’t people just be nice and help one another out? Wasn’t that what a fundraiser was all about? So far, this guy had been the only person here who hadn’t been more than happy to pitch in to put today’s fundraiser for the Chatham Crescent Women and Children’s Shelter together.
My best helper had been my boyfriend, Tucker Heyward. He’d been my rock, doing anything and everything I needed to make sure this event ran smoothly. Since it was my job to fill the fundraising group’s Instagram page with shots of the afternoon, one of the many tasks I had him on was photo duty. He was a much better photographer than I was, anyway. He’d run off to capture some shots of the old plantation we were using as the venue for today.
The antebellum plantation mansion was massive, having two wings connected by a cavernous foyer with a sweeping staircase. My committee was under strict instructions from the owners, Duke and Magnolia Stiles, not to let anyone, especially “the help,” wander around their home. The catering staff was allowed to use the kitchen, but other than that, no one was permitted inside.
Our lovely city of Savannah was temperate and perfect in April, in my opinion the ideal time for an outdoor party. Warm enough to wear a pretty spring dress without a sweater, no pesky bugs to worry about just yet, and not so hot and humid that the food would melt or spoil.
My attention was drawn to two ladies facing off against each other on the mansion’s terrace, arguing and gesturing with their hands. I rolled my eyes and chuckled to myself. Magnolia Stiles and Lucille Davis were at it again. They were both on the fundraising event committee with me, which had made the planning of today’s event difficult from the start. They’d butted heads over everything from the food to the venue and even to the color of the napkins. These Southern belles had known each other for fifty years and knew exactly what buttons to push to get each other’s noses out of joint. Wondering if they were arguing over an actual problem that needed fixing before the guests arrived, I wandered closer so I could hear their heated conversation.
Lucille’s voice dripped with disdain as she gestured toward the pool house. It was a wonder she could even lift her hand with as many carats of diamonds as she was wearing. “Really, Mags, you couldn’t have had the pool house repainted before the event? The last coat you had put on there is starting to chip away. I can see the hideous shade of green from years ago peeking out. Not a good look.”
From where I was standing, which was closer to the pool house than they were, I couldn’t see any peeling paint. Granted, the place wasn’t sparkling with a brand-spanking-new coat of paint, but it was far from an eyesore.
Magnolia’s cheeks blazed red. “You try keeping this monstrous money pit maintained. I’ve been wanting to sell for ages, but Duke won’t hear of it. He was born here, and he’ll die here.” With a sneer, she added, “At least my home is large enough to provide a venue for an event of this size.”
That comment was hardly fair. Lucille lived in an absolutely gorgeous home in Savannah’s historic district, and it was good-sized for a house in town. Its square footage and lot size could never compete with that of a sprawling old tobacco plantation. It was like comparing apples to oranges.
Eavesdropping on their catfight wasn’t worth my time, so I started walking and made a sweep of the grounds. The caterers had the food well under control, and the smells from the kitchen had my mouth watering. The bartender had several drink stations set up and ready with plenty of ice and luscious-looking cocktails. The florist had finished her job and was pulling her van out of the driveway, having festooned the place within an inch of its life, including the pool, which had a dozen huge flower arrangements floating on its still surface. It was quite the floral wonderland around here. The band had completed a sound check and was warming up. Everything was in its place. That was, except Tucker’s tie.
I approached him to straighten it, but when I got within arm’s reach, he surprised me by grabbing me and planting a kiss on my lips.
“What was that for?” I asked, smiling up at him.
He smiled back at me. His smile always warmed me to my core. “To take your mind off stressing over this party for two seconds.”
“I’m not stressing,” I said, trying to convince myself as much as him.
He gave me a pointed look.
“Okay, so maybe I’m stressing a little,” I admitted.
His face fell into a mock frown.
“Okay, fine. I could stand to simmer down a little.”
“A lot. You could stand to simmer down a lot, Quinn.”
I sighed. “Point noted.”
He dropped his arms from around my waist. “Tell me what I can do to help.”
“Would you mind running around to the front of the house to make sure the valet stand is fully staffed and ready for the influx of guests?”
“I’d be happy to. While I’m gone, you take a break. You’ve got a long evening ahead of you.” He gave me a pat on the back and trotted off.
I wanted nothing more than to take a break, but there was no time for that. The moment Tucker’s calming presence was gone, I slipped back into stress mode. I flitted around all over the party setup, double and triple (or maybe more—I’d lost count) checking everything one last time. As the first of the guests started arriving, I handed out donation envelopes and brochures detailing how the money we raised would benefit Chatham Crescent Women and Children’s Shelter, while Magnolia and Lucille welcomed everyone. The two ladies’ demeanors had turned on a dime since I’d last seen them. They were nothing but graciousness and good cheer.
Once the guests had all arrived, I took yet another walk around the grounds. As I was fussing over a bouquet of flowers on the donation table, Clara McLeod, another of my fellow committee members, came over to speak to me.
Clara took my hands in hers. “Everything is absolutely perfect, dear. Don’t you worry your pretty little head about anything else. Relax and enjoy yourself. You’ve earned it.”
I squeezed her hands. “Thank you, Clara. I just want everything to go off without a hitch.”
Giving me a knowing smile, she said, “I’ve put together enough of these parties to know that we’ve got all our ducks in a row for today. Nothing will go wrong. Mark my words.” She waved over a waiter with a tray of champagne flutes and took two of them. She handed one to me and clinked her glass against mine. “To a spectacular party.”
“Hear, hear,” I replied, taking a sip with her. The champagne was phenomenal, but I needed to keep my head, so one sip was enough for a lightweight like me.
Tucker appeared next to us. “Toasting your success already?”
Clara tittered out a laugh. “Yes, Tucker. We’ve already deemed the party a winner.”
He beamed at me. “I couldn’t agree more.”
My phone rang in my pocket. I’d managed to find a lovely dress with a hidden pocket in the skirt, perfect for stashing my phone. I had a feeling I was going to need it today. “One sec,” I said to Tucker, as I stopped to answer the call. It was from my friend Pepper Fox, who was part of the catering staff. “Hi, Pepper. Everything going well with the food?”
“The food? It’s fine.” Her voice sounded strained. Laid-back Pepper’s voice never sounded strained. My body tensed.
Caroline Fardig is the USA Today bestselling author of more than a dozen mysteries. Fardig’s Bad Medicine was named one of the best books of the year by Suspense Magazine. She worked as a schoolteacher, church organist, insurance agent, funeral parlor associate, and stay-at-home mom before she realized that she wanted to be a writer when she grew up. Born and raised in a small town in Indiana, Fardig still lives in that same town with an understanding husband, two sweet kids, two energetic dogs, and one malevolent cat.