Select Page

Secret Sleuth Book 6

Reunion for murder in Haines Tavern

Sheila agrees to soothe Clara’s nervousness by accompanying her friend to the 20-year class reunion for North Bend County High. Nostalgia, good memories, old friendships – this should be fun, right?

Ah, but grudges, old rivalries, and long-buried secrets also arise. And before the festivities wrap up, there’s one old classmate dead, another being questioned, and enough suspicion to cover several more.

Sheila and Clara have their hands full making sure the wrong person isn’t accused and the right one doesn’t get away. Especially with Sheila also wondering about her relationship with ex-policeman Teague O'Donnell, her fledgling attempts to write fiction, and – of course – the well-being of the canine crew of Gracie, LuLu and Murphy.

This whodunit with humor is the sixth book in USA Today bestselling author Patricia McLinn’s cozy mystery series, Secret Sleuth, which begins with a murder on a transatlantic cruise in Death on the Diversion. In Death on Torrid Avenue and later books, accidental investigator Sheila Mackey returns to dry land in the Midwest, where mysteries abound in her new Kentucky home.

Available NOW at all your favorite online bookstores! Released October 26, 2021.

Genres:
Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

“You’re reading The Wizard of Oz?” my friend Clara asked with no judgment but plenty of curiosity. “Haven’t you read it before?”
Crunching leaves would have foretold her arrival … if our dogs’ joyous together-again yips and whooshing-past soundwaves hadn’t already. My collie Gracie and Clara’s Great Pyrenees mix Lulu acted as if this meeting in my back yard came after years of separation, instead of less than twenty-four hours since yesterday’s gambol at the dog park.
“I am.” I kept reading to finish a passage. “It’s well worth re-reading. It’s a wise and wonderful book.”
“That sounds like the description of the wizard.”
“Uh-huh.” My pleasure at Dorothy and the crew escaping the fighting trees led by the Tin Man — or the Woodsman, as the book said

READ MORE

was somewhat dimmed by the distracting sound of the wheels in Clara’s head spinning.
“You know,” she said. “If you look at it one way, The Wizard of Oz is all about reunions.”
She had a point.
The book starts by stating its protagonist lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies with Uncle Henry, a farmer, and Aunt Em, the farmer’s wife. Dorothy spends most of the book learning what she needs to know to get home to her aunt and uncle. And in the movie, home to their hired hands, too, even though they’d accompanied her in the guise of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion.
Without looking up from the book I’d had since childhood, I said, “I am not going with you to your high school reunion.”
I’d expressed the sentiment several times over the past two days.
“It would be a great way to meet more people. You need to widen your circle of acquaintances and there will be lots of people at the reunion who still live in the area.”
Not a selling point to me. Widening my circle of acquaintances in North Bend County, Kentucky, or anywhere else, raised dangers Clara didn’t know about and I didn’t want to think about at the moment. I limited my response to “No.”
“Besides,” Clara said as if I hadn’t turned her down now and all previous times, “it’s not only my class. There’ll be reunions from before and after my class. You could meet people from different age groups.”
“I do that at the dog park.”
“You would if you talked to more people at the dog park. Gracie has a far better social life there than you do.” She slid from earnest to as close to sly as she gets. “Even if you don’t want to get to know people, it could be great research. Think of all the murders at reunions.”
“In fiction. Most reunions are strictly murder-free.”
“Are you sure? Because there are a lot of books with murders at a reunion, plus all those murder games and plays.”
Since becoming a virtual author’s assistant earlier this year, Clara had developed a deep interest in many aspects of the publishing world. A world I’d been in the middle of until a year ago. Which was a fact about me she didn’t know.
She thought I was a former high school English teacher who’d quit and moved here after an inheritance.
“Pretty sure. You could look it up.”
“I will,” she said. “But it’s still good research for you about characters and motives—”
“I’m not writing mysteries. I’m writing romance. I told you.” I dropped my voice. Yes, we were in my backyard, but I couldn’t be too careful.
Because my writing endeavors constituted another secret, with Clara the only one who knew about it.
And if you’re thinking, Great. Just what Sheila Mackey needs, another secret, you’re right.
This writing secret I wasn’t sharing with anyone beyond Clara. Not my parents, siblings, or great-aunt — definitely not my great-aunt. Also definitely not Teague O’Donnell. First, I wanted to know if I could write.
The toughest trick was keeping the fact that I was writing from Great-Aunt Kit, who had always supported herself writing novels.
Why keep it from her?
Not because she wouldn’t support me. Because she would.
Authors talk a lot about the editor voice in their head nagging at them, which gets in the way as they’re trying to create. Add Kit’s voice and my head would burst. She would generously share every bit of knowledge she’d picked up in decades writing for traditional publishers and more recently as an independent author.
It would be like someone dribbling a basketball for the first time getting pointers from Michael Jordan.
I needed to get my feet under me and start walking before I could benefit from her advice on skipping and dancing.
Because right now all I was doing was trying to write.
When I wasn’t sitting in the yard re-reading childhood books.
As for Teague O’Donnell … that was complicated.
Clara said, “I’m glad to hear you’re writing romance because there are no murders in the Wizard of Oz, so—”
“Except the witches, East and West.”
“—I might have thought you were procrastinating.” Clara didn’t appear to see my wince as she continued. “Those weren’t murders, they were accidents. Dorothy didn’t steer the house to land on East and she picked up the water bucket that ended West because it was the closest tool at hand to save Toto.”
“That’s the movie. In the book, Dorothy throws the water because West has taken one of the magic shoes.”
“Anyway—” She relentlessly returned to her topic. “—reunions are even better research for romances. All those pent-up emotions from high school coming out. Crushes revealed. Broken hearts finally mended. Maybe people get back together — true love at last — or realize the high school sweetheart never really was the one and they’re happy with the spouse who agonized over what would happen at the reunion—”
“Sounds like a murder plot. But the genre doesn’t matter, because I’m not going.”
“Oh, c’mon. It’s not only about doing me a favor because my husband deserted me—”
“Didn’t you say Ned’s client was hit by a late-season hurricane and needs help getting equipment back on line?”
“A little hurricane. Didn’t wipe out the whole place, just took off some of the roof, letting rain in on the equipment. Not like the building was lifted up and transported to Oz, leaving only the storm cellar in place.”
“That was a tornado.”
She steamed past my factual correction. “They could have waited a week. Or Ned could have come home for the weekend.”
“You told him not to. That it would be easier on him to stay there and get the work done.”
“So, I changed my mind.” She sidestepped the speeding freight train of my dog chasing her dog with joyous abandon.
“But you didn’t change your mind, or you’d have told Ned to come back.”
She gusted out a sigh. “Do you have to be so logical?”
“Sorry. Don’t know what I was thinking.”
“It’s okay. You can’t help it sometimes. I almost did tell him to come back. They’re sleeping in a tent and using the facilities of a damaged motel, poor baby. Only it’s really hard to get out of there and then to get back in… But, Sheila, I want to go to this reunion—”
“Great. Go. You know all these people. It’s not like you’ll be going into a room full of strangers.”
“Worse. A room full of people who knew me when I had all the potential in the world and—”
“So did they.”
“—a younger, thinner me.”
“I empathize, but I’m not going with you.”

CHAPTER TWO

“When do you and Clara leave for her reunion?”
Teague O’Donnell asked the question with an assumption of completely spurious innocence.
He was teasing. Along with not so subtly saying I told you so about my giving in after he’d predicted I would when we went to a movie Wednesday night.
“The reunion’s not until tomorrow night.”
He nodded solemnly. “I know. She’s enlisted me to bring LuLu out here tomorrow after I’m done because LuLu will have been inside all day while she primps.”
Out here was the Torrid Avenue Dog Park, where we were standing and watching our dogs — my Gracie, his Murphy, and Clara’s LuLu — frolic.
After I’m done referred to Teague’s plans for the weekend.
He was using his carpentry skills to lead a project adapting a home for a student at the school where he subbed who’d been in a car accident. With considerable therapy, the hope was the boy would walk again. For now, though, ramps, wider doors, and other adjustments would make daily life much easier.
Staff, students, and administration were pitching in to make the necessary changes this weekend before the boy was released from rehab.
“That’s Clara primping, not LuLu,” Teague added.
“Thanks for the clarification.”
This was an accidental meeting. I hadn’t known he’d be here with his dog and Clara’s, though I might have guessed if I’d given it thought.
Clara had called this morning, asking if I was going to the dog park.
I’d been occupied with … uh, a project on my computer and answered absently that I didn’t plan to go today, that Gracie could take a day off from the dog park.
Clara had said okay and reconfirmed what time we were meeting tonight for a reunion eve dinner.
Then I’d gone back to the … project.
I could have predicted Clara would call Teague to see if he’d take LuLu to the park … again, if I’d been thinking about it.
But the project monopolized my thinking. I was only here, with the project temporarily set aside, because Gracie insisted.
You don’t think a collie can insist? You haven’t met many.
She stood on the other side of my desk with only her ears showing over the edge. She sighed. She moved to another spot where she could stare at me. More sighs. Back to the ears in my line of sight. Extremely expressive ears.
That sounds endearing, doesn’t it? Let me tell you, you have never been accused of dog neglect until you’ve had a pair of furry, cutely tipped ears pointed at you for long, unmoving moments while you tried to concentrate on … a project.
“Clara must be pre-primping now, huh?” Teague asked.
She was, in fact, having her hair and nails done, but I wasn’t betraying womanhood by revealing that. “You should be grateful you’re included for dinner tonight, and at the Haines Tavern no less. By rights, she and I should be the only ones going, since it’s a thank-you for accompanying her to tomorrow night’s reunion. You’re only in on it because she felt sorry you might be alone on a Friday night. And—” I turned to him with a searching gaze. “—why are you making fun of reunions anyway? You don’t go to yours? Have something against the people you went to high school with?”
“Other than the ones in jail, no. Went to the five-year reunion.”
His hint of defensiveness increased my satisfaction at turning him away from Clara’s insecurities while it also piqued my interest. We’d been dating casually for several weeks. Not casually in the sense that we didn’t make plans, but casually in the sense that this relationship deepened at a pace making snails look like Olympic sprinters.
There were reasons on my side.
Secrets to keep, remember?
The first couple weeks I was relieved he didn’t push me. Lately, I’d begun to wonder about his reasons for taking it so slow.
“No reunions since? Why not? Living down high school trauma?”
“Undercover.”
I already knew he’d been a cop in Illinois before moving here last year about the same time I did, after buying a house and adopting a rescue collie. I supposed he’d left police work when he’d been blinded in one eye in an incident he had not clarified or described. He hadn’t given much by way of detail in other aspects of his former life, either. And I was severely hampered in finding out more because if I asked him questions — including, but not limited to about the pace of our relationship — he’d likely ask me questions.
Not only was an ex-cop sure to be better at it than I was, but I didn’t want anybody asking me anything. I was living in the town of Haines Tavern, Kentucky, to blend into the background and not have anyone recognize me as my former persona: The author of beloved and bestselling novels whose releases were events before being turned into blockbuster movies, starting with Abandon All.
Except I didn’t write that book or those that followed. My great-aunt Kit did.
It’s complicated.
“Undercover? That’s your excuse for not going to your reunions?”
He chuckled. “Truth. Long hair, scruffy beard and all. Didn’t want to take any chances of connecting my undercover life to my real life.”
Gracie and Murphy zoomed in close to us and stopped abruptly, staring at each other. The intensity demanded our attention. Gracie took one step closer. Murphy held his ground. Another step closer. Murphy’s ears fluttered.
Gracie pounced, hopped backward, then ran past him, circled the table for an extra lap, before looping around for the pleasure of zeroing in and pouncing again. His tail wagging, Murphy scooted under the table.
Teague leaned over to look at his dog.
“I know, buddy. Females are tough.” And then, as if I wouldn’t have heard, he straightened and continued what he’d been saying to me. “Not to mention my undercover persona would not have been a hit with my former classmates.”
“Oh, I don’t know. Some people — females in particular — like a little rough.”
He turned to me, eyebrows up. “You?”
“I was thinking of my dog.” Who now trotted away from us, hip to hip with the lab mix. “I like…” I swallowed against hammering in my chest reminding me how much I liked him as he was. “Uh, clean cut.”
“Good.” His voice dropped on the single word, adding a new drumbeat in my chest.
He’d shaved off the beard he’d sported for a few months, with interesting timing.
He hadn’t done it immediately after Clara told him I didn’t like beards. Not after he first asked me out, either. Not even after Clara repeated something else I’d told her — the theory that women, in particular, won’t vote for men with beards or other facial hair because the men appear to be hiding something.
The beard disappeared after our third date.
As if he’d wanted to be sure this had a chance of going someplace before he gave up the facial hair.
But then why no, uh, developments?
Now, he cleared his throat. “Just don’t go finding anybody clean cut or otherwise tomorrow night. What time did you say you were leaving?”
The quick follow-up question eased the seriousness, but left me wondering about the almost-not-quite intimation toward exclusivity.
“Clara’s coming to my place at six-forty-five.”
“Thought you were driving.”
“I am, but she said she’d come to my house and we’d leave from there.” I was the designated driver so she could relax and drink as much as she needed to relax.
“Doesn’t trust you to get started on your own, huh?”
I zapped him with a look. He grinned.
“I won’t renege. I agreed I’d go, I’m going.” I turned and picked up Gracie’s leash from the nearby picnic table.

COLLAPSE