Murder in the Smokies - By Paula Graves
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Ivy Hawkins—The Bitterwood P.D. detective has no idea who’s killing women in her small Smoky Mountain town. The last thing she needs is Sutton Calhoun breezing back into town after years away, threatening to complicate her case.
Sutton Calhoun—The son of a notorious backwoods con man left town when he realized he’d never live down his family reputation. But his security job has him back in Bitterwood, trying to solve a confounding murder.
Seth Hammond—Once Sutton’s best friend, before Sutton’s father took Seth under his wing and turned him into the criminal Sutton refused to be, Seth swears he’s reformed his ways. But for one of the good guys, he’s harboring a whole lot of secrets.
Rachel Davenport—Her father’s trucking company keeps popping up in Ivy’s investigation. Can the reluctant heiress help crack open a murder case?
David Pennock—The farmer claims he has a good reason for washing blood out of his rental truck while the trucking company lot is closed for the night. But does his explanation hold water?
Mark Bramlett—Though his plant nursery rents a truck from Davenport Trucking, the friendly businessman seems willing to help in any way possible. But could one of his employees have something to hide?
Captain Glen Rayburn—Ivy’s superior at the Bitterwood P.D. thinks she’s in over her head. But would he go so far as to sabotage her investigation?
Cleve Calhoun—Sutton’s father may not be the wily old con man he used to be, but can father and son ever reconcile, or is the damage to their relationship too great?
For my childhood friend Julie Plant, who introduced me to the beautiful Smoky Mountains on a trip to Lake Junaluska in western North Carolina. We’ve lost touch, but I hope wherever Julie is, she gets to see this dedication and know I remember that trip fondly, all these years later.
People in small towns were trusting souls. Even in this wicked age, doors remained unlocked, windows unlatched behind flimsy screens designed to keep out mosquitoes and flies, not people.
Small towns made things too easy for him. They really did.
But he wasn’t going to quibble about getting what he wanted without a lot of effort. He liked a challenge as much as anyone, but in the end, it was all about results.
Bitterwood, Tennessee, had sounded like exactly the place for him. One of those little Southern towns left behind by the modern world to desiccate slowly in the blazing heat of a Southern summer. Most of the people who still lived here were too old to move away. Or too settled, too scared or too shiftless to bother.
They hid in their little burrows, behind the bravado of unlocked doors and friendly smiles, because the big, bad world beyond the mountain hollow was scarier than anything they could find here.
At least, that’s what they used to think.
Until he’d come.
The house on Vesper Road was small and neat, painted a pale grayish-blue with merry yellow trim. Behind the house, moonlight silhouetted Smoky Ridge, edges softened by the lush summer growth that gave the mountain the appearance of blue velvet in the daylight.
This house, he thought, would be locked. She’d know better than to pretend the world around her was a safe place.
But she was worth the challenge.
No one else was stirring at this time of night, no traffic moving along the two-lane road winding along the twists and turns of Bitterwood Creek. Ten miles west of Bitterwood, I-75 made it easy for travelers to bypass the town altogether on their way to the Smoky Mountain tourist traps.
Her door was locked, just as he’d expected. He tried the window by the front door and found it had been latched, as well.
Circling the house in silence, he came to a side window that looked in on her study. She was there, he saw with surprise. Her head on the desk, cheek plastered to the pages inside an open file folder. Working late, he thought with a secret smile.
Trying to catch him.
She wasn’t pretty, exactly, but that had never been one of his criteria. He’d taken old women and young girls, fat and skinny, fit and fragile. Not all here in Bitterwood, of course.
Here, he’d taken only three.
He tried the latch on the window and found it open. But he couldn’t get into the house this way, not with her napping so near. A loaded pistol lay on the desk beside her. One creak of the window and she’d