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Deserts, Driving, & Derelicts

Book 2 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series

Mae West is getting settled into the RV lifestyle as the owner of a campground in Normal, Kentucky. Happy Trails Campground, located in Daniel Boone National Park, has started to attract late summer vacationing families who love to hike, swim, fish, and enjoy being outdoors.

Betts Hager, owner of several small businesses, is swamped with work and desperate for help with her cleaning business. Mae offers her services, happy about the prospect of a little extra cash. Heiress Tammy Jo Bentley’s mansion is the first one on her schedule.

Mae makes sure Tammy Jo’s house is spotless because the Kentucky Kennel Association’s annual meeting is going to be held at the mansion. Fifi, Tammy Jo’s high pedigree, insured poodle, is going to be on display and Tammy Jo will be evaluating potential suitors to sire Fifi’s offspring.

Before the annual meeting, Camille Braun, Fifi’s nanny, is stabbed to death. Everyone knows that Camille would put her life on the line or lay down her life for Fifi and, apparently, she did.

Mae tries her best to stay out of it. Tammy Jo begs Mae to help her; after all, she did find the last killer in Normal. Plus, it’s not good for business – or Normal’s revived economy – when a murderer is on the loose.

Deserts, Driving, & Derelicts

Excerpt

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Chapter One

“Thank you for coming in.” Alison Gilbert, the young reporter from National Parks of America magazine, greeted me all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. She wore black sandals and a midcalf-length red dress with small black polka dots. Her brown hair was cut to her chin. “We are so glad you agreed to the interview. Follow me.”

She hurried down the hall at the Daniel Boone National Forest office, talking over her shoulder and guiding me to the room where she was going to perform the interview. She set her bag on the long conference table.

“Now, we can relax.” She turned slightly to look at me as she continued to walk down the hall. “I have coffee here, along with some donuts. Please, help yourself.”

I walked over to the coffee bar, catching my reflection in the glass window that overlooked a beautiful area of the national park, and noticed my hair had doubled in size on the ride over to the office. That was the problem with curly hair and humidity. The two didn’t play nice with each other.

“Thank you,” I said and pulled a handful of hair over my shoulder to one side. “Would you like a cup too?” I asked and poured a cup of coffee.

“That’d be great.” Her hand was buried in her bag. She dug around for a few more minutes, finally pulling out a camera.

“You do remember the terms I agreed to?” I wanted to confirm before we got started.

“Yep.” Her head slowly nodded. She fiddled with her phone and sat it down on the table. “No particulars about your husband or the Ponzi scheme, but you’re okay with talking about how you acquired Happy Trails Campground, bringing more tourists to Normal during a slow economic time.”

“Ex-husband,” I muttered, heading over to the table, setting a cup of coffee in front of her, and then walking over to look at the donuts.

“Right.” She pulled in a deep breath. “I’m going to tape it on my phone, if that’s okay,” she said. “I like to go back and listen to the interview while I’m writing the piece. I want to make sure I don’t leave anything out.”

“Sure.” I grabbed one of the glazed donuts and took a modest bite. If I were alone in my camper, I’d just stuff my face with all of it and lick my fingers after.

“Interview with Mae West, owner of Happy Trails Campground located deep in the Daniel Boone National Forest in Normal, Kentucky.” She smiled. “Normal,” she repeated, laughing. The tone of her voice had changed into a very professional one. “There’s really nothing that’s been normal in Happy Trails for many years.”

I didn’t know what she wanted me to say, so I just took a sip of coffee.

“How did you acquire Happy Trails?” she asked.

“It’s no secret that I was married to Paul West.” If whoever reads this article in National Parks of America magazine hadn’t heard of my ex-husband, then they’d literally been living off the land in one of these parks with their head stuck under a rock. “Years ago, during his college years, he got possession of the campground.” I left out the part where he’d actually made a bet with the original owner, Ron Randal, who now owned the Normal Diner. Ron had made a bet with the young go-getter. Paul was never one to turn down a bet, even when he thought he might lose. In this case, he won. And here I was today. “Years later, he gave me the campground.”

“Gave it to you?” she asked.

“After Paul went to jail, all of my possessions were seized, except for Happy Trails Campground and the camper I live in because they were in my name only.” There wasn’t any sense in reliving the entire story of how my lawyer had broken the bad news to me in his Manhattan office, trading my luxury car keys for a flamingo key chain with a camper key dangling off it.

I had no idea Paul had owned a campground. It was a shock to me how, years before, he’d deeded the property over to me. Just one of many things I didn’t know. In fact, I didn’t even know my husband like I thought I did.

“After I found out that I owned Happy Trails, I made a visit and haven’t left. I fell completely in love with camping life and the campground itself.” I left out all the in-between stuff like the shock of my new life and living arrangements. Something I was embarrassed about now, but it truly had been a scary time for me.

“You’re being modest.” Alison scooted up in the chair and rested her forearms on the edge of the conference table. “I want to get to the nitty-gritty. I’ve talked to a few Happy Trails residents who have made the campground their year-round home. They tell me that Happy Trails was almost inhabitable. After I did a little digging into your married life, I have to assume it was hard for you to go from a mansion in the Hamptons to a tiny camper.”

“I admit I was taken aback when I pulled into Happy Trails the first time. The Kentucky bluegrass had been burnt up, the lake had a mucky film over it, and the buildings were in bad shape.” There was no denying that Happy Trails had come a long way since I moved to Normal a few months ago. “I’m happy to say that it’s fully back up on its feet and we are booked for the next three seasons.”

“That’s fascinating. I mean, you waltz into Normal as this hoity-toity New York City housewife with all the luxuries the world could offer. You walked into a crazy situation where almost all the residents of Happy Trails had been victims of your husband.”

“Ex, and I didn’t waltz.” My eyes narrowed as I wondered where this interview was going.

She grazed over my comment and continued to look down at her notes.

“I mean, he didn’t pay the manager for years, though he did let her live there for free. It was run-down and nothing worked, including the laundry machines. Your husband swindled a lot of Normal residents out of their retirement accounts. How did it feel to be the most hated woman in the town?” She smiled. Her words were like daggers.

“Well, you’ve done quite a lot of research.” I could’ve reminded her that I didn’t really want to talk about what Paul had done to the people of Normal, but I decided to deal with it head-on. Seriously, how many people were reading National Parks of America magazine? “I’m fully aware of what Paul did to the people and the town of Normal. Especially when a big chunk of their economy comes from the campground. So, when I saw what a disarray Happy Trails was in, I decided it was time to make things right with the entire community.”

“That’s when you came up with the brilliant social media campaign?” She was finally getting to the true reason for the interview.

“I have to give credit to my friend Abby Fawn. She’s the librarian at the Normal County Library. As you pointed out, the laundry machines at Happy Trails weren’t working, and having driven from New York, I needed to do laundry.” The memory of my meeting the ladies of the Laundry Club was very fond. I loved telling the story. “I took my laundry to the Laundry Club.”

“The Laundry Club is a full-service laundromat located in downtown Normal. Correct?” she asked.

“Yes. Though it’s so much more than that. There’s fresh coffee, jigsaw puzzles, a book club. It’s like a community.” I couldn’t stop my smile from growing. “That’s where I met a group of women I consider my friends. It’s like meeting your friends at a coffee shop, only it’s a laundromat.”

“Tell me about the women.” She seemed to be really interested.

“First, there’s Dottie Swaggert, then Queenie French, Abby Fawn, and Betts Hager.” Even though I was telling the story to her phone, Alison was still taking notes. “They welcomed me with open arms and really took me under their wing. Abby is the one who took my idea about having some sort of fundraiser to help bring the campground back to what it used to be in its glory days and ran with it. She did all the social media hashtagging, and it just took off.”

“That’s what brings us here today. There was so much buzz about the grand reopening of Happy Trails that you ended up booking all the lots for the next year. No one even seemed to care that your husband’s body floated to the top of the lake. Wasn’t he murdered?”

She had to add in that last part, didn’t she? I lowered my eyes and stared at her for a second. She fidgeted a smidgen as if she realized she was teetering on a fine line.

“Ex,” I sighed, grabbing another donut. This time, I stuffed it in my mouth just as I heard the camera click. “You aren’t going to print that one, are you?”

“You’re originally from Kentucky.” She’d obviously been digging around more than just my married life. My palms started to sweat and itch. “Why don’t you tell me about that?”

“There’s really nothing to tell. It was a lifetime ago.” I pinched a smile. “I’m happy to say that I’m back in Kentucky and enjoying living at Happy Trails Campground. We are ready for more families to join us for a terrific vacation.” I spouted off the office phone number and the website URL, which was also Abby’s doing. “We have a monthly party where we get together for food and friendship. It’s free to the public. This month’s is about this late Indian summer we are having, so it has a desert theme. Dottie Swaggert is the social coordinator for Happy Trials. If you look on social media, using hashtag Summer Sizzler, you’ll find all the information you need. Come one, come all.”

“Thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. I know I probably pushed a little too much, but I think everyone is going to love how you completely turned the campground around and brought a feel-good story to Normal, Kentucky.” Alison stood up and gathered her belongings. “I ran by the campground earlier and took some photos. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.” I took another donut. “Please let us know when we are in it so we can frame the article and hang it on the wall in the office.”

Little did I realize just how many people did subscribe to National Parks of America magazine, but I was soon going to find out.

 

Two

“Well, well, well.”

Someone standing in the sun’s rays cast a shadow over my lawn chair. Dottie Swaggert, the manager and social coordinator of Happy Trails, and I had taken a few minutes to enjoy the pleasant early morning warmth by the campground’s lake before the heat wave of the Indian summer took over in the afternoon.

The person dropped a knapsack on the ground next to their feet. “If it ain’t May-bell-line Grant, then my eyes are deceiving me,” he said with a heavy Southern twang.

Lordy. I shielded my eyes from the sun and hoped that it was the hot summer sun playing tricks on my mind. Was it really who I thought it was? I scooted up onto my elbows, blinking a few times to try to get the sunspots to go away so I could see clearly.

“Your eyes are deceiving you.” Dottie Swaggert moved the tinfoil-covered piece of cardboard from underneath her chin. She used her fingers to fluff up the curls in her short red hair that’d been flattened from lying down. “Now pick up that backpack, get out of my sun, and get on the trail to Daniel Boone National Forest right through them trees.” Dottie pointed to the tree line behind the lake, where many different levels of trails started for the campers of Happy Trails. Every once in a while, we got a stray hiker or two.

Satisfied with herself, Dottie laid her head back down and put the cardboard back up underneath her chin. “Honey, we see all kinds during these Indian summers.” She glanced over at me. “You know if I said Indian summer anywhere else than right here, I’d be considered of ill-repute.”

My eyes adjusted, and sure enough, it was exactly who I thought it was. Just a little older.

“Go on!” Dottie said with some frustration and flung her hand out.

“Bobby Ray Bond?” I questioned and pushed myself up off the chair.

I stood face-to-face with the very person who gave me the money to leave on that Greyhound bus to New York City twelve years ago.

“Heeeeeere’s Bobby!” He held his arms out and put on a funny grin like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

We’d spent many nights watching The Shining over and over. Bobby did the best impersonation of Jack Nicholson, down to the crazy eyes.

“Bobby!” I squealed and threw my arms around him. It didn’t take long for my nose to catch on to his bad body odor. I took a step back. With my hands on my hips and a smile on my face, I asked, “What on earth are you doing here?”

Bobby Ray had on a pair of dirty jeans and a filthy white T-shirt with the neck stretched out. He had brown eyes that used to match his head full of brown hair, but time seemed to have taken that away from him, leaving him a thin comb-over.

“I came to see my one true May-bell-ine.” He winked. “Look at you. All grown up and stuff. Running a campground. Back in Kentucky. Then I went and Googled you down at the community center. Literally almost fainted when I seen all the hashtags with your name. I told everyone that my May-bell-ine had hit it big time, owning her own campground and all.”

“Dottie, this is Bobby Ray Bond. Bobby and I were in the same foster family. He was the only one with a good job, and he gave me enough money to not only get a Greyhound bus ticket out of Kentucky, but also the initial payment for flight attendant school.”

Then it hit me like the stink his body was emitting. It was time to pay the piper, and Bobby Ray just so happened to be the one tooting the horn.

“How did you find me?” I asked leerily.

“You could’ve knocked my teeth out when I saw your interview in National Parks of America magazine. I said to myself, Bobby Ray, is that our May-bell-ine Grant? I responded to myself, Nah. Our May-bell-ine would’ve called if she was in Kentucky because that’s what she said in the middle of the night before she left.”

My mouth dried and I gulped. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to call him, but it was a part of my life that I wanted to forget.

“The more I read it, the more I couldn’t believe my eyes. As sure as Shinola, it was my May-bell-ine Grant, who’s not only grown up but has a campground of her very own.” He grinned. “Looky at you.”

“And look at you.” There was some apparent sarcasm in Dottie’s response. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” she said with a little fire behind her words. She stood up. Her temper was flaring up as bright as her hair. “You comin’ here and tryin’ to mooch off Mae West now that she’s made a name for herself.”

Bobby Ray jumped.

“Woman! What’s wrong with you?” he protested. “Bobby Ray Bond doesn’t mooch off no one. Especially not May-bell-ine.” His face scrunched up in disapproval of Dottie’s accusations.

“Don’t you be callin’ me ‘woman’!” She jabbed some uppercuts with her hands fisted. I’m sure she’d learned those in the Strike Jazzercise class she’d been taking with Queenie French, one of our friends. “Now, you get on out of here like I told you to earlier.”

“Hold on.” I positioned myself between them, arms outstretched. “Dottie,” I said, putting my arms down, straightening my shoulders, and choking out the next words. “If it weren’t for Bobby Ray, I’d not be right where I’m standing.”

“Mmmhhhh,” Bobby agreed. “She’s right. Right as rain.”

I gulped back what felt like tears coming up, stinging my nose. What Bobby had done for me so many years ago was a blessing, and it made me cry then, much like it was doing now.

“I just can’t believe it’s you.” I wiped a tear from my cheek. He smiled. “I guess I need to stop blubbering and get to work. But I’ll get you settled first,” I said to Bobby and glanced over at Dottie. She was still glaring at Bobby Ray. “Dottie, I’ll meet you in the office in a few minutes. We can get the final details worked out for the Summer Sizzler.”

“You mean you ain’t had that Summer Sizzler party I read about in the magazine?” Bobby bounced on the souls of his filthy shoes. “I love me a good party.”

“You’re staying?” Well, crap. Now I couldn’t help but wonder if Dottie was right about him coming here for something more than just a short visit.

“Yes, I am.” He rocked back and forth. “A few days anyways.”

“Bet he hangs around longer,” Dottie muttered under her breath as she headed off in the direction of the office at the entrance of the campground.

“Bobby, would you like a drink?” I asked, gesturing for him to follow me to my camper. “I’ve got some homemade sweet tea that’s been soaking in the sun since yesterday. I’m figuring that it’s probably about ready.”

“You’re speaking my language, May-bell-ine.” He hurried behind me.

“I don’t go by Maybelline anymore. When I moved to NYC, I shortened it to Mae,” I said.

It wasn’t because I was trying to escape the name from my past; it was because my mama truly named me after the beauty product. I was so tired of the jokes that came with it. New York was a fresh start, and it was Bobby Ray who I had to thank. Since I’d been back in Kentucky, I’d wondered over several occasions what my life would look like if I’d not left twelve years ago. It was no good trying to figure out the what ifs, so I’d forced my thoughts to something different, like what Ty Randal was doing back in San Francisco.

On our way to my camper, I couldn’t help but look at Ty Randal’s camper. Was he ever going to come back now that his father had recovered and he didn’t have to live in Normal to look after his siblings?

“You sure have a nice place here.” Bobby brought me out of my thoughts.

“It wasn’t like this at all when I first got here,” I said, getting a whiff of Bobby’s odor on the downwind, which was probably the only breeze we’d have all day. It was going to be a scorcher.

That was Kentucky weather. It was like Mother Nature had a plan, but Father Time was driving and didn’t ask for directions. The seasons were all over the place. But it was also one of the things I did miss about Kentucky while I was away—the different seasons and the beauty each one brought to the area.

“The lake was a mess, and there wasn’t any grass.” I continued to tell him about how I’d taken possession of the campground that was one day away from being shut down by the National Park Service. “I’m sure you know that my ex-husband was Paul West.”

I took the flamingo key chain out of the pocket of my shorts and unlocked the camper door. I grabbed the jug of sweet sun tea that I’d put on the picnic table outside of my camper yesterday. The color was nice and orange. Perfect.

“I wasn’t going to bring it up, but now that you have…” Bobby took the couple of steps up into the camper. “I did read about it when I Googled you. Mostly, I was hurt that you didn’t invite me to the wedding.”

“I wish I wasn’t invited either.” I half joked. “But the good thing is I’m back in Kentucky and really enjoying life now.” I turned around inside of the camper and reached out to touch his arm. “I’m so glad you are here. Now, it looks like you’ve had a long day already.”

“Do I look that bad?” He brushed his hands down his dirty clothes. “I walked here.”

“You’re kidding me?” My jaw practically dropped to the floor. No wonder his shoes were torn up and his clothes were dirty. “That had to take days.”

“Yep, but you’re worth it, May-bel…” He paused. “Mae.”

“I’ll get you a big glass filled with iced tea while you grab a shower in my bathroom right back there.” I gestured to the back of the camper and grabbed a plastic glass to get his tea fixed.

“Are you sure?” he asked.

“Of course. I hope you stay with me while you’re here.” I knew that I was going to regret that as soon as it came out of my mouth.

“I was hoping you’d say that.” That put a big grin on his face. “I’ll be right out.”

“Take your time. I’m actually going to run up to my storage unit. I think I’ve got some men’s clothes in there.” I went back to the door. “You’ll find everything you need under the sink.”

He’d already disappeared into the bathroom before I could finish my sentence. Over the past couple of months, I’d invested in a used golf cart to help get around the campground. Mostly, my handyman, Henry, used it.

It was perfect for a situation like this. Instead of walking down to the storage unit to grab some old clothes of Paul’s for Bobby, I could jump in and drive it up to the storage unit, get the clothes, and be back before he finished showering.

Some of my stuff from my previous life was stored in boxes in one of the storage units. Most of the boxes were fancy clothes that I’d yet to sell on eBay. Setting up an eBay shop was another awesome thing Abby Fawn had done initially to raise money for the campground. I wasn’t going to be using high heels and sequin dresses around here, so we sold them on eBay for a crazy price and used the money to help fix the washers and dryers.

I’d still not gone through all the other boxes that contained knickknacks. If I hadn’t missed them by now, I probably never would. Eventually, I’d go through them. It just wasn’t high on my priority list.

Last time I was in there, I had seen a box labeled “Paul’s Clothes”. It would be good enough for Bobby to wear until I could get downtown and pick up some clothes from the secondhand store for him. I needed to go downtown anyway.

The storage units were situated slightly behind the office, covered by big oak trees. There were ten standard metal units. We had a few campers who paid a yearly lot fee, but only stayed in their campers for a couple of weeks or months each year for vacation. Those residents were the ones who usually rented a storage unit for their golf carts or other things they didn’t want to store in their campers.

I put the key into the lock and twisted it until I heard a click. The doors were like a garage door that lifted up. I bent down and lifted it until I heard it lock in place at the top so the thing wouldn’t fall down on me. I’d learned my lesson the hard way.

Paul’s box was in the back-left corner. I dragged it to the front of the unit.

Anger swelled up inside of me when I got a whiff of Paul’s cologne. I’d know that smell anywhere. Gucci for Men. I dug through the box until I reached a couple of short-sleeved shirts. It was hot as Haiti here, and long sleeves would roast Bobby Ray like a s’more.

“You gonna let him stay here?” Dottie caught me off guard. I looked back at her standing in the doorway of the unit, a cigarette stuck in the corner of her lip. “He’s here to use you.”

“You scared me.” I held a polo shirt up to my chest to see if it would fit Bobby. “Yes. I’m going to let him stay here with me. He’s not here to use me.”

“Mae, I’m telling you. I’ve seen his kind before. He’s like a bugger on your finger, you won’t be able to thump him off,” she said, warning me in a way only she’d be able to.

“He’s only passing through.” Well, technically he didn’t say that, but it was good enough to get Dottie off my back until I did figure out just how long he was staying. “I do owe him.”

“Then give him the money back.” She took the cig out of her mouth and pointed her finger at me. “How much did he give you?” she asked.

“It was about three thousand dollars.” I went back to the box and dug deeper until I found a pair of khaki pants. I held them up in the air. “These will do until I can get some shorts at the secondhand store.” I draped them over my arm.

“I’m telling you,” she said when I walked by her to leave the storage unit, “he’s got more guts than you can hang on a fence showing up here like that.”

“Wait.” I stopped and motioned her to come out so I could close the storage door. “I thought it was commonplace to just show up unannounced around here.”

“Only when you don’t want a favor,” she spat. “Good news, we had four more calls about the one cancellation. Shoooweee.” She pulled a napkin from her bra and wiped her brow before dabbing her chest with it and putting it back. “It’s gonna be a killer.”

“I’ll see you later.” I closed the box back up and decided to leave it where it was. The garage door wheels squealed when I pulled it back down and locked it. I got into the golf cart and took off, waving my hand in the air, leaving Dottie standing there with a sassy look on her face.

Bobby Ray was whistling in the shower when I got back to the camper. It brought back so many memories. You always knew where Bobby was because he always whistled a tune. His happy-go-lucky attitude was the one thing that made me love being around him so much. It made me happy to see he’d not changed all that much.

No matter what my gut told me, I was going to be nice and kind to Bobby. He deserved that.

Before he finished with his lengthy shower, I unlocked the glove box in my RV and got into my little stash of cash. It was the only thing that Paul had done right by me before the FBI seized everything and hauled him off to jail. He’d left me one hundred thousand dollars in a secret sock drawer in our Manhattan apartment. I’d used some here and there, mainly to pay back what Paul had taken from Dottie, so there wasn’t a lot left, but I couldn’t forget what Dottie had suggested about paying Bobby back. In business, there were never handouts. Bobby walking halfway across the state to find me made me suspicious. It was best just to head it off at the pass.

I hurried up and counted out three thousand dollars after I heard the water turn off.

“Bobby”—I knocked on the door of the bathroom—“I’ve got some extra clothes for you on the floor outside the door.” I put them down on the ground and walked back to the kitchen area of the camper, which was about five steps away, busying myself with the tea.

In no time, Bobby was standing next to me, smelling much better.

“I’ll take your clothes to the laundromat when I go to town later. I also need to go to the Tough Nickel Thrift Shop. I can pick you up a couple of outfits while I’m there.” I handed him a glass of fresh sweet tea. Then I tugged the cash out of my back pocket. “I’m so glad you are here. Now I don’t have to hunt you down to repay you.”

His eyes rounded as he fixed them on the wad of cash.

“It’s all three thousand I owe you.” I handed it to him.

“With interest?” he asked. When I looked at him, he smiled. “Just kiddin’.” He took a drink of tea and put the cash in the front pocket of Paul’s khakis. “Mae, I’m not here to collect this money.”

He wasn’t fooling me because he wasn’t digging it back out of his pocket.

“I gave that money to you, but I can’t say it’s not come at a time when I’m down on my luck.” This surprised me because Bobby was such a good mechanic. He always held down some sort of mechanic job and a side gig at the local fast-food chain when we were kids. “All these fancy cars and technology changing like it’s done has really put a dent in what I know.”

“I’ve never thought about mechanics and new technology,” I said.

“I’m not used to these fancy clothes.” He wiped his hands down his chest. He was avoiding eye contact with me. Knowing Bobby Ray like I did, he was embarrassed at where his life had led him.

“You can have them.” I patted his back.

“This sure is a fancy camper.” He looked around. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen walls like this.”

“Let me show you what it used to look like.” I took my phone off the charger and clicked onto the photos app. I swiped the screen until I found them. “As you can see, it wasn’t that great. But I’ve learned a lot since living here. I’ve got some great friends that can decorate on a budget. These walls are old wood pallets that I’ve turned into that popular shiplap.”

I’d used every bit of space possible. I’d taken down all the walls and made it an open concept plan with the kitchen and family room in one big room. We’d put up shiplap walls painted white. I’d gotten a cute café table with two chairs from the Tough Nickel, as well as a small leather couch. It was perfect for one. The floors were redone with a prefabricated gray wood. The kitchen cabinets and all the storage cabinets were white. I’d transformed the little camper into a country farmhouse.

I’d strung twinkle lights everywhere I could. The bathroom was redone with a tile shower and upgraded toilet. Then I had my bedroom in the back. I’d opted to buy a new mattress and used some nailed together wooden pallets I’d painted pink as a headboard. I’d gotten a dresser with four drawers from the Tough Nickel that went perfect with my distressed look. The twinkle lights added a bit of romance, along with the fuzzy rugs and milk glass vases full of fresh flowers or wildflowers that grew here in the Daniel Boone National Forest.

“By the look of it, life’s agreeing with you.” He sat down in one of the chairs at the table.

“You know, it’s hard to even remember how a few months ago, I was actively trying to find a buyer so I could go back to being a flight attendant.” I sat down across from him. “Now, I couldn’t imagine not living here.”

“Even after they found your husband in that lake?” he asked.

“Ex.” I took a drink of my tea. Without bragging, I’d really outdone myself on this tea. I was getting better and better at making it taste good. “Nope. I took the negative and turned that around. Enough about me, tell me about you. Where are you headed?”

“Why, I’m here.” He patted the kitchen table.

“Here? As in Normal?” I tried to dance around the big elephant in the room.

“Yep. I figured you’d need someone lookin’ after you like I used to do. That’s why I decided to head here.” He patted the table again.

“Oh, no.” I waved off his ridiculous notion. “You don’t need to do that. I’m just fine. But I sure have enjoyed our little visit, and I’m glad I got to pay you back. Where are you staying?”

“You don’t have any open campers?” he asked. He’d obviously done more than just look me up. He looked up the entire Happy Trails website. “I seen where you have some campers for rent.”

As much as I wanted to say they were all taken and get him out of my life, because he was here for something, I couldn’t let him just loiter around Normal.

“Actually, they are little bungalows, but of course you can stay in one. I have to check with Dottie to see which one is open.” There was a smile on my face, but my stomach churned. For a brief second, I felt like I was going to throw up. But why?

 

end of excerpt

Deserts, Driving, & Derelicts

is available in the following formats:

Jun 26, 2018

ISBN-13: 978-1723010866

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