Christmas, Criminals, & Campers
Book 4 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series
Welcome to Normal, Kentucky where NOTHING is normal.
Librarian Abby Fawn is star struck when her favorite romance author, Nadine White, has rented a cozy camper at the Happy Trails Campground for the winter months.
Abby is devastated to find out Nadine White is nothing like the person she portrays in interviews or on social media. In fact, Nadine White is not nice at all and Abby lets her feelings known that she thinks Nadine is a fraud. . .after she finds out Nadine has a ghost writer.
When Nadine White is found dead in the Normal Library, Abby Fawn is Detective Hank Sharp’s number one suspect.
It’s time for Mae West to put up her camping gear for the winter months and put on her sleuthing gear to figure out who is framing Abby Fawn before Abby is the ending in Nadine White’s final chapter.
From USA Today Bestselling Author Tonya Kappes, this bestselling and hilarious mystery series is all the rage! You don’t want to miss out!
Read an Excerpt
Christmas, Criminals, & Campers
Book 4 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series
Christmas, Criminals, & Campers
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“The way Nadine carefully wove the tapestry of the small town really did make it feel like its own character,” Abby Fawn said with a deep sigh of happiness. She spoke so fondly of the book she had picked for The Laundry Club’s monthly book club meeting.
It was no secret that Abby Fawn was Nadine White’s biggest fan. Many times, Abby used her position as a librarian to get advance reading copies of Nadine’s books before they were published.
“No matter what we say about the book, Abby is going to defend it until she convinces us to feel the same way.” Dottie Swaggert curled her nose as though she smelled dirty laundry a tourist was throwing into the closest washing machine.
The Laundry Club was a full-service laundromat in downtown Normal, Kentucky. It wasn’t just a place to do your laundry; it was like nothing you’ve ever seen. It was upscale, and Betts Hager had done a fabulous job making it feel like the comforts of home for the customers.
Since Normal was located smack dab in the middle of Daniel Boone National Park, it was a tourist destination for campers and hikers who needed a laundry facility. Betts wanted her customers to be as comfortable doing laundry at The Laundry Club as they were in their homes. She set up a coffee and drink bar and offered snacks. She had a sitting area complete with a television and couches. The customers loved to hang around the puzzle area where there was always a jigsaw puzzle to solve. The little library area, where we held our monthly book clubs, had shelves stocked with books from Abby that the library could no longer use or were too damaged to put on the shelf as well as a computer.
It was the first place I’d come to do my laundry when I drove into Normal in my camper. And here is where I’d met these ladies that I now could rely on for anything I ever needed. We’d truly become what the name was – The Laundry Club.
“Do you have something to say about Cozy Romance in Christmas?” Abby directed her question to Dottie.
“Nope.” Dottie sat back, crossing her arms in front of her. “I thought it could’ve used a little more oomph if you know what I mean.”
“This is a very popular women’s fiction book. It was my pick and I wanted to pick something that gave us a good and happy feeling inside that we can hold onto during the Christmas season since our next book club won’t be until the new year.” Abby jerked her head towards me. Her brown-haired ponytail whipped around her. “Mae? What are your thoughts on the town being its own character?”
“Well.” I hesitated by taking a moment to look at the front of the book to get the author’s name.
We all knew that Dottie liked her novels a little steamier and Queenie French liked her cowboy romances, but honestly, I preferred a good cozy mystery. Over the past few months I’d even used some tricks I’d learned from my favorite cozy mystery authors to help the local sheriff’s department bring a few criminals to justice.
“Um. . . Nadine White does make you feel like you are in the town on the cover.” I held the book up with the cover facing outwards. “I love how the snow is falling in front of the yarn shop. It’s also cute how the cat is in the display window.”
“But what about the friendships Nadine wrote about in the novel?” Abby asked.
“If y’all treated me with kid gloves and all the rah-rah we are sisters stuff, I’d think you’d lost your ever-lovin’ mind.” Dottie didn’t waste any time giving her opinion.
“I think it was very nice.” Betts Hager was opening The Laundry Club’s mail. “No matter what you think, Dottie, our little group has become a much-needed girls’ group for me just like Nadine created in the book. There were some people with flaws, but it’s fiction.” She ripped open an envelope and pulled out a letter. “What about you, Queenie?” Betts asked another member of our book club, pushing back a strand of her wavy shoulder length hair and brushing her bangs to the side as she read the letter to herself.
“I’m not saying it was the worst book we’ve read, but I’m certainly not going to continue with the series.” Queenie adjusted the Jazzercise logo headband up over her forehead. Her short blonde hair was sticking straight up like a bunch of matchsticks. She did look great for being in her sixties, but her colorful wardrobe choices could use a little improvement. “There’s like twenty books in the series.”
Abby Fawn’s brows drew down.
“Abby, we all liked it, but just not as much as you.” I reached over to give her comfort.
“Guys,” Betts Hager put her hands in her lap, gripping the letter. “We all better really like it because Nadine White is coming to our book club.”
“What?” Dottie’s face pinched.
Abby reached across our circle of chairs and snatched the letter out of Betts’s hands.
“I always invite the authors we pick to The Laundry Club book club meetings, never figuring one would show up.”
“Oh my Gawd!” Abby shook with excitement. “She’s getting ready to write her next novel over the winter and will be in Normal for Christmas. When she looked up Normal on the internet, she noticed all of my social media posts and hashtags. She decided that she’s going to check out Happy Trails Campground and rent a camper for the entire winter season to work on her next novel.”
“Happy Trails?” That got my attention right away since I was the owner of the tourist destination of choice deep in the Daniel Boone National Park.
Long story short, my now-dead ex-husband had gone to jail for a Ponzi scheme after swindling millions of dollars from people all over the country, including all the women in the book club. When he went to jail, I had no idea he’d named me the owner of a rundown campground while everything else was seized by the government.
Going from the high life in Manhattan to a campground in Normal wasn’t my idea of fun or the way I had wanted to spend my life. I’d spent the better part of my teenage years getting out of the Kentucky foster care system after my own family had been killed in a housefire.
It had taken me a few months to get the campground up and running on top of doing many odd jobs around the quaint town of Normal, but I’d made it a success. In doing so, not only did I gain the trust of the citizens that my husband had abused, but I had also brought the tourists back to the sleepy town by offering luxurious camper-style arrangements that were better than any hotel in Daniel Boone National Park.
Over the past couple of seasons, Happy Trails Campground had been used for family reunions, honeymoons, and family outings. I was proud of what I had done and its impact on our small town, and Abby Fawn had worked alongside me by doing her fabulous social media marketing in addition to being the town’s librarian.
“I ain’t never gotten no call about a Nadine White.” Dottie Swaggert reached out to get the letter from Abby. She would know. She and I both lived at the campground. She was the manager and took all the reservations.
“Can I have that letter to keep?” Abby gushed with delight and took her phone out of her pocket. “Hashtag Nadine White is going to join the hashtag The Laundry Club hashtag book club to talk about her hashtag women’s fiction hashtag novel hashtag Cozy Romance in Christmas.”
“Abby!” Betts called out her name when she realized Abby was plastering Nadine White’s visit all over social media.
“What was that?” I looked around when the lights in the laundromat flickered.
“The snow.” Betts waved it off. “We have overhead powerlines out back that feed the electric and the heavy snow will sit on the line, wreaking havoc with the electricity.” She pointed to the television that showed a snowy picture instead of the Weather Channel we had been watching on because there was a snowstorm headed our way. “The electricity rarely goes out, but the internet and cable do. Abby,” she got Abby to look up from her phone. “You can’t put it on social media. In her letter, she specifically states that it’s a getaway and no one but her agent will know where she is.”
“Oh, no.” Abby clicked and swiped away on her phone. “I don’t have service.”
“You better get service fast because she’s coming today.” Dottie shoved the letter in my face.
“Today?” My jaw dropped. “I didn’t have her reservation.”
“Not under her name, but under Valerie Young.” Dottie poked at the paper with her finger. “That’s her agent.”
“Valerie Young is the one who requested a Christmas tree and some fun lights around the rental camper.” I had just finished putting up the Christmas tree last night in anticipation of her arrival.
“You’ve got to do more than that,” Abby’s voice rose with each word as the joy and anticipation over her favorite author’s arrival bubbled up within her. “You’ve got to go all out and decorate the outside too.”
“I did see Buck put some new decorations in the display window of the Tough Nickel Thrift Shop.” Queenie unzipped the fanny pack that was clasped around her waist and took out an emery board to file a hangnail.
“You’ve got to do it. Can’t you tell how much that Nadine loves Christmas from this book?” Abby begged. “I can help. I’ve read all of her books and there’s a few Christmas ones. She loves tree all decorated in colored bulbs and she loves those snowmen blow ups. Loves them,” she emphasized with her hands along with wide open eyes. “I’ve got to invite her to the library to do a reading.” Abby jumped up and started to pace. She’d stop, hold her phone up in the air, look at it, shake it, and do it all over again in an effort to get some cell service. “It’s perfect. A Christmas present for Normal.”
“I’m not so sure she wants anyone to know she’s here.” Betts sighed. We all stared at Abby in amazement. She was so giddy and childlike. Granted, she was in her early twenties and the youngest of the group, but it was an author, not some big Hollywood actress.
“No.” I put my hand out. That was the last thing she needed to be involved in. I’d never seen Abby this excited, not even since she’d started dating Ty Randal, one of Normal’s most eligible bachelors and kinda a suitor of mine when I first moved to Normal. “You’ve got a lot on your mind and I’m crunched for time to get the camper ready.”
“It’s her own fault if she didn’t tell you to get more decorations ups.” Dottie tugged her cigarette case out of her front pocket. “Come on, I’ll go with ya.”
“So it’s set.” Abby gathered in the middle of us before we all went our separate ways. “If I can get Nadine White to do a book reading at the library, you’re all coming, right?”
“Can I tell her that her book is no good?” Dottie took out a cigarette, sticking it in the corner of her mouth and letting it bounce as she talked. “She needs to be told that she needs more substance than a romantic fling and hoping to find love again.”
“Dottie, I promise. You are going to love her. She’s amazing.” Abby’s smile was brighter than the North Star on the night Jesus was birthed. Well, at least brighter than how I pictured it. “I have to go! I’ve got to get to some internet and take down that tweet about her being here.”
The rest of us stood there watching Abby bolt out the door into the falling snow, leaving her coat on the back of her chair.
“Poor girl.” Queenie tsked, clasped her hands, and bended forward to the ground. “I guess I better get to the church. I’ve got a Jazzercise class to teach and that undercroft gets really cold if they haven’t put the heat on.”
Queenie gave hugs all around.
“We’ve got the heat on.” Betts moved the chairs from the circle back to where they belonged. “I made sure Lester knew.” Lester was Betts’s husband and preacher of the Normal Baptist Church.
“The three of you aren’t getting no younger, so you better come join me for some good cardio exercise.” Queenie wiggled her fingers into jazz hands before she slipped her hot pink gloves over them.
“Here.” Betts had run over to the coffee bar and made to-go cups of coffee. “Take a cup with you. It’s cold out there.”
Betts was a woman who wore many hats. She not only did everything she could to be a wonderful wife and mother, she ran The Laundry Club, which was doing great, cleaned houses on the side, and was involved with various clubs around town.
Dottie and I said our goodbyes to Betts and put our coats on.
“I sure hope Abby doesn’t get her hopes up.” Dottie stood on the sidewalk and lit her cigarette.
“I’m worried about that too. She’s built her up in her mind to be this wonderful woman. I just hope Nadine White doesn’t disappoint her number one fan.” I wrapped my hand around the crook of Dottie’s arm. “Let’s walk on over to the thrift shop and see what decorationsBuck’s got over there for Nadine’s camper.”
Downtown Normal was truly beautiful in falling snow. I had never lived here before during the winter and the scenery didn’t disappoint. In Kentucky, we had all four seasons. I’d have to say that fall happened to be one of my favorites, with all the changing colors Mother Nature offered deep inside the forests of Daniel Boone National Park.
The shops downtown were all different shapes and size. Some were cute chippy buildings and some were quite large, but none of them had big signs. They all had small, wooden, hand painted signs. There was The Smelly Dog Groomer, Cookie Crumble Bakery, Normal Diner, the Normal Library, Sweet Smell Flower Shop, The Trails Coffee Shop, Grassel’s Gas Station, Deter’s Feed-N-Seed, and the Tough Nickel Thrift Shop, to name a few.
“It looks like Abby has gone into Sweet Smell.” Dottie drew her finger along Abby’s footsteps in the snow and pointed into the window of the flower shop as we passed by.
“She is probably telling them all about Nadine White.” I shook my head and looked both ways before Dottie and I crossed the one-way street along that side of the median to cross to the other side of Main Street.
Main Street was split in two, right down the middle. One-way streets on each side. In the middle was a small amphitheater, covered shelter, and several picnic tables scattered around the tall trees. During the warmer seasons, it was a wonderful place to have lunch while visiting downtown or to see plays put on by the community theater. A lot of tourists liked to come down here and have family reunions in the shelter. In the winter, it was turned into a tree lot, with twinkling Christmas lights scattered around the perimeter of the entire area.
There were a few vendors and local artists set up that were allowed to sell what they made. Crafts were a big thing around here, especially anything monogrammed. It was definitely a great place to Christmas shop for someone because you were guaranteed to find something unique.
Dottie snuffed out her cigarette as we hurried across the streets and into the Thrifty Nickel. It was a neat shop owned by Buck. He’d left the old building exactly the way it was built, leaving the exposed brick on all wall and the entire store open with tall ceilings. There was an upstairs full of clothing and a back room with thrift store items, but I was more interested in the blow-up snowman he’d displayed in the front window.
Dottie and I made sure to shake the snow off our coats and boats near the door. We didn’t want to get Buck’s hardwood floors or his oriental rugs wet. While she moseyed around to look at the big antique furniture and expensive items, I checked out all the Christmas things he had until I found Buck to ask about the snowman.
Buck was tall and slender with coal black hair. He was in his late sixties and was very knowledgeable about the history of not only Normal, but of all the items in his shop.
“Mae West. How’s your first Christmas season in Normal?” Buck trotted down the steps. He had a stack of long johns in his hands.
“Surprising.” It was a word I’d found myself using a lot when people asked about Happy Trails for the last couple of weeks. “I never figured anyone would want to stay at a campground during winter. Especially with the big snowstorms we are projected to get.”
He folded and stacked the long johns into a tobacco basket he used for display near the front of the shop.
“I think it’s that people love to gather and enjoy each other. At least, I hope that’s what the campground offers. Which brings me to why I’m here.” I gestured over to the snowman. “I have a special camper coming. . .”
“That writer woman?” He asked, interrupting me. I guess the look on my face asked him how he knew. “Abby came in here like a jumping bean she’s so excited. Looking for a perfect gift for the woman. I had an old leather-bound book that she’s going to turn into some sort of flower vase. She mumbled about going on over to Sweet Smell Flower Shop to get this woman’s favorite flowers or something.”
“Oh, boy.” Abby was further gone than I had thought. “Abby is her biggest fan.”
“I gathered that.” He adjusted the pile of long johns and rubbed his hands together. “What about the snowman?”
“According to Abby, Nadine White – that’s the author – loves blow up snowmen. I was wondering if I could either buy it or rent it from you to put in front of the camper she’s staying in over the Christmas holiday.” I had to admit it was super cute.
It wasn’t too big or too small. It’d be perfect for the size camper she was renting.
“I also need some lights to go on the outside along with one of those multi-colored camper flag banners you sell.” I might as well go all out just like Abby said Nadine would love. “I do want to show her the hospitality Happy Trials and Normal have to offer. Maybe she’ll set her next book in a town like ours.” I fluttered my lashes, knowing Buck was a sucker for a southern gal.
My insides began to flutter. Was I climbing aboard Abby’s wagon and getting a little excited too?
“Oh, alright.” He shook a finger at me. “Just because I like you, Mae West.”
I stood near the window watching Buck make his way into the winter wonderland display he’d made. The snowman wasn’t easy to get out of the window, but Buck forged ahead. I heard the snowman’s fan turn off, followed by the sound of the round, white guy deflating.
The knock on the glass made me jump and look up. Bobby Ray Bond, my foster brother from when I was a kid who’d recently found me back in Normal, was waving from the sidewalk. He was dressed in a pair of thick mechanic’s overalls, a knit blue cap, and a pair of snow boots.
I waved him in.
“May-bell-ine, what on earth are you doing out in this weather?” He scolded me, raking off his cap. What was left of his thinning, brown hair stuck up due to the static electricity from the hat. His brown eyes bore into me. “I don’t think it’s fittin’ for you to be out when there’s a storm coming.”
“I’m fine, Bobby Ray. I lived through all the people milling about New York City all those years. A little snow isn’t going to bother me.” I reminded him that he was no longer my protector even though he was the one who’d paid for me to get out of Kentucky the minute I turned eighteen.
I mean the exact minute after, which was in the middle of the night. He’d given me enough money to get me to New York and I’d made all the arrangements. I hadn’t looked back either. At least not until my ex and all that mess and his leaving me with the campground. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I’d actually found myself in love with being back in Kentucky.
I can’t say I was exactly thrilled when Bobby Ray showed up at Happy Trails looking for a job and a place to live, only because I didn’t want to relive my past. It was in the past and I didn’t like to live there. Bobby Ray had embraced the new me and I’d felt like we’d moved past the foster family days.
“Okay. If you say so. I’ve got to get back to work.” He slipped his hat back on his head. “I’ll see you, Buck,” Bobby Ray called out before he headed out the door and walked down Main Street towards Grassel’s Gas Station where he worked.
Bobby Ray was a great mechanic and it was just his luck that Joel Grassel had been looking for a good mechanic. I told him to look no further than Bobby Ray. He was the finest around. In Normal everybody brought their cars to him and he’d done right well for himself. He even bought the camper he’d been renting from me and was a full-time resident there along with me, Dottie, and Henry, my maintenance man. Other than that, the rest of the campers were intended to be rented for short periods of time. There were some bungalows nestled in the back of the campground, only they didn’t have heat, so those weren’t rentable for the winter.
“Here you go.” Buck handed me the snowman all neatly folded like he’d done the stack of long johns. The blower for the snowman, a box of outside lights, and the banner were all stacked on top of the deflated snowman. “ You just need to plug it in. The amps on the camper should be fine. It doesn’t take up too much electricity.”
He was talking about all the hookups and electricity required for the campers. Some of them required more since they were bigger and had more electric items, but the one Nadine’s agent had rented was a simple camper with not many amenities.
“You’re the best, Buck.” I took the snowman. “I can have it back to you after the New Year.”
“Nah, you keep it. But I do want to come to the campground’s Christmas feast.” He smiled. “I’ve got nowhere to be, so I figured I’d just show up there.”
“You got it. We’ve got some good food planned.” Each month I had a themed party at the campground.
It was originally for the campers’ enjoyment, but they had gotten bigger and bigger since the citizens of Normal had gotten involved and I’d invited them. Happy Trials had needed a lot of work when I moved here. It was broken and rundown. Nothing worked. With the help of many of the local businesses and donations, we were able to get it up and running again. There was a year long wait for a reservation now.
We were booked solid for the month of December, and I knew the Normal Diner would be closed on Christmas Day. It was the perfect time to host a Christmas Day lunch for anyone who wanted to come, but with the impending weather, I was just hoping we would have electricity.
“Did you see Dottie upstairs?” I asked Buck, wondering where she’d disappeared to.
“Yep. She was trying on some new clothes I just received from an estate sale. I haven’t even gone through all of it yet. But she helped herself,” he said right before she appeared at the top of the steps.
“How much?” She had a plastic bag full of pink sponge curlers.
“Free. I don’t think anyone wants used hair curlers but you.” He laughed, shook his head, and pushed his hands down into the front pocket of his jeans. “I swear, Dottie Swaggert.”
“Let’s get out of here before the snow really starts to fall and we can’t get this snowman up in time.” I was more worried about getting the decorations up in time than the snow. “But first, I’m going to grab a small tree from the tree lot.”
I’d bought a small Ford to get me around since I’d parked my RV at Happy Trails. It was sorta a pain in the neck to move once you got situated. I had to take everything down, put it away, and secure it in order to drive it, so when Joel Grassel had a car I could buy, I jumped at the chance. I had a golf cart to use around the campground, but not in the snow.
The little Christmas fir we picked out for the outside of Nadine’s camper fit perfectly on top of the Ford.
There weren’t many big highways around Normal. We were located in the middle of Daniel Boone National Park and Forest, which meant the roads were maintained by the county. This was a good thing since the National Guard was in charge and they kept the roads clear as best they could.
“It sure is coming down, Mae.” Dottie drummed her fingers along the door. “You be careful.”
“Don’t you worry. I’ll get you back in no time to get those new curlers in your hair.” I joked, but kept my hands steady on the wheel. One slick spot and we’d no doubt hit a tree. “It looks like they’re going to have to make a few passes on this road.”
I looked in the rearview mirror at the snow covering my tire tracks faster than my wheels could make them.
Dottie reached over and turned on the radio. The latest weather update was just coming on.
“The Bluegrass Airport is going to be shutting down in two hours. If you are coming to the airport, be sure to check the status on any and all flights leaving out of or flying into the airport,” the woman said. “The snow is falling at a more rapid pace than we’d initially anticipated.”
I took it slow as I turned right into the campground’s entrance and under the Happy Trails Campground sign. The entrance was a long and windy gravel road that took you deeper into the park before you entered the clearing where the cute and cozy campground was located.
“I wonder if our famous camper will be here?” Dottie asked a good question. She’d put her hands in her pocket and pulled out her cigarette case. “I’ll be happy to get in my house.”
“Did I make you nervous?” I laughed and drove further into the campground, passing the office building on the left and the storage units on the right before turning right onto the road that circled around the lake in the middle.
“You don’t make me nervous.” She had her door open before I could even stop the car in front of her camper. “This weather makes me cranky and achy.”
“Alright. Be on the lookout for our famous guest,” I told her. “Also, can you send a call out to Henry to meet me down at her camper, so I can get some help putting all this up?”
“Sure will!” She hollered and looked up at the sky. The snow was really coming down now. “You better hurry up or you’re going to turn into a snowman.”