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Vistas, Vices, & Valentines

Book 24 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series

Welcome to Normal where nothing is normal!

Join Mae West and the Laundry Club Ladies as they cha cha and twirl their way around Happy Trails Campground as they put on some sleuthing dance shoes to bring closure to this southern and fun cozy Valentine’s mystery.

When I begged Hank Sharp to take dance lessons to celebrate Valentine’s Day, I knew I was getting more than I had bargained for. But when a dancer’s dead body shows up at the height of the competition and Hank is hired to investigate the murder, I had no idea what we were in store for when he had Dottie Swaggert and Henry Bryant go undercover as a dance competition couple to get insider information.

After a little snooping around, we discovered there were deep running feuds and passions behind those sequins and smiles that gave motive and opportunity to kill for the desires to win the most coveted dancing title.

Time is running out and we fear Dottie’s life is in danger. Let’s face it, she has a hard time keeping her mouth shut. And NO ONE puts Dottie in the corner.

Vistas, Vices, & Valentines


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“This is ridiculous,” Hank grumbled under his breath.

His green eyes squinted as they shifted left to right, taking in the other gentlemen who were standing in line with him. He looked at me.

Just smile through it, I told myself and tried to keep my shaky arms extended into a T formation.

My jaw tensed. My teeth gritted in a forced thin smile.

“This was your idea.” Hank had no problem making sure I recalled how much fun I’d thought it was going to be to offer free dance lessons to the guests of Happy Trails Campground during the week of Valentine’s Day since the International Dance Company was holding their big competition in Normal, Kentucky. “I’m just being dragged along.” He stretched his neck side to side like we were about to be a tag team in a wrestling match.

I’d gotten Corie Sadek’s information from Queenie, who was our local Jazzercise instructor. Queenie was really involved in dance, and there was a dance class not too far from us in the neighboring town of Beattyville, Kentucky.

Corie and her dance partner, Ricky, were more than happy to take my money to teach a few lessons to get us up to speed for Valentine’s Day. Plus, she’d mentioned it would give them some practice for the dance competition that was being hosted at the Train Station Motel.

Of course, I’d seen those famous dance-competition shows on television, but I’d not realized just how much they had given the dance industry until it came to the National Forest Park Committee’s desk that there’d been a permit filed to host the huge event. That was when I started to look into the industry, and boy, there was some big money to be made if you were really good at the craft.

“You keep reminding me it’s my idea.” I sucked in a deep breath and focused on not shaking when I saw the instructors walking down the line, correcting everyone’s posture.

The Old Train Station Motel had an old barn on the property that’d been converted to an events center. It’d become a popular destination for weddings—not a big surprise since the motel had gorgeous views of not only the sunrise but the sunset, with the grandiose Daniel Boone National Forest as the backdrop.

“For a few basic formations…” The five-foot-seven instructor walked around like a breeze. She had long blond hair that swayed atop a mesh red dress over matching leggings as she flitted from couple to couple, as did Ricky.

Corie seemed to work with the men, and Ricky worked with the ladies. Both had slight accents that told me they weren’t from America, but I could tell by the way they spoke slowly and precisely that they were really trying to cover it up.

Hank and I had already established who’d be the lead dancer and who’d be the follower. Hank was the leader in our case because in my head, I had been playing like the movie Dirty Dancing without the famous water scene, though I did have the unruly curly hair like Baby.

I snickered at the thought of Hank and me standing in the large stream off Red Fox Trail with me lifted above his head while I pretend to soar like an eagle before tumbling into the water, like Baby and Johnny from the movie.

Fat chance.

“Very nice.” Corie ran a slim finger down my arm, tracing a path to Hank’s shoulder before tapping it. “You will hold your partner by karate chopping your right hand underneath her armpit,” she instructed the group and used Hank to demonstrate.

She smiled and moved to Bobby Ray Bond and Abby Fawn Bond, his wife.

Corie slightly wrinkled her nose and gestured for Bobby Ray to really get up under Abby’s armpit. I could tell Bobby Ray was really trying his best, even on his appearance. He wasn’t wearing his baseball hat that usually covered most of his loose blond curls. They were free-flowing.

Abby giggled, her core sunk in. She looked so cute with her long brown hair free from her usual ponytail. It lay down her back in ringlets.

“I’m ticklish.” Abby laughed some more before she curled her lips in, trying to force a serious face when Corie didn’t find it a bit amusing. “But we can try again.”

“Now cup your hands around your partner’s shoulder blade. You can hold your partner’s right hand as high as his or her eye level without raising their shoulder.” Corie continued to walk around and fix the other dance partners’ forms. “Ricky, please show Kirby how to properly hold Felicity.” She spoke of Kirby and Felicity Marshall, a young couple who were guests of Happy Trails and had signed up for the class through the campground website.

Ricky glided his way across the old barn floor, sweeping Felicity into his arms.

“I know how to hold her, buddy.” Kirby’s tone was stiff.

“I’m sure you do, but in this case, you treat her like the fine delicate rose she is.” Ricky gave her a swarmy smile that left a bad taste in my mouth.

Kirby took a hard step back. His brows hooded his eyes, never once giving any sort of acknowledgment to the instructions Ricky was giving him about his dance form. Instead, Ricky made his way over to the large barn windows, where the thick velvet drapes had helped transform the venue into an elegant ballroom.

The lights had been temporarily changed to tiered crystal chandeliers that glistened in the soft light. The morning sun filtered through the windows, hitting the chandeliers just right to create little sparks all over the interior of the barn in a mirror-ball effect.

There was a balcony where the brides loved to throw their bouquets to the eager single ladies below but not this week. This week, the live band and orchestra would call it home, accompanying the dancers on their quest to win the championship.

Hank tugged me in a little closer.

“Keep your eyes on me. Not them.” He bent down and kissed my nose.

“This is kinda nice.” I shrugged while keeping one hand on the top of Hank’s bicep with the other cradled in his hand.

“Straighten up, Bobby Ray.” Abby did her best to get Bobby Ray on board, but he kept wiggling his hips like he was doing some sort of salsa dance, making Abby belt out into more laughter.

“This basic footwork step is simple and perfect for beginners like all of us.” Corie had brought her thin hands together in front of her, making her way over to Hank. She tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me. Can I borrow him?”

“I guess,” I groaned with a snarl and furrowed brows, knowing exactly how Kirby must’ve felt.

The raised brows of Queenie French, Dottie Swaggert, and Betts Hager didn’t go unnoticed.

The three of them didn’t have dance partners for the class, so they’d been switching off.

Betts had her bangs styled to the side to complement her wavy brown hair. Dottie must’ve left her pink sponge curlers in a little too long this morning because her red hair was so tight to her head.

“You’re going to start with your left foot, taking a step to the left.” Corie stood tall, as Hank had put one hand in her pit and the other around her.

I gave the ladies a hard look before I walked over to them.

“I’m not as cute as him, but I guess I can take on your two left feet,” Dottie said through a snicker before she took my hands in hers.

Betts and Queenie both laughed.

“Here we go,” Corie said and gave a slight nod to Hank. “Left foot, two steps, in time with my count.” She gave him instructions. “One, two, three.” She was soft-spoken. “Four, five, six.”

They stopped right on the edge of the dance floor before they ran into the audience part of the room.

Every dining table was perfectly spaced and already set as if the competition was right now and not starting tonight. The four-day extravaganza was highly anticipated, and you were lucky if you scored a ticket to the event. Seeing as I was on the committee, I scored tickets for myself and all of my friends.

The tables had white tablecloths, napkins puffed into wineglasses, and perfectly polished and spaced silverware as well as gold-edged china place settings. The flower centerpieces were fresh and gave the entire barn a nice scent.

“Very good.” Corie winked at Hank and turned back to the class. “Please.” She gestured for me to step back into place with him.

“Aww. I thought we had chemistry,” Dottie said and let go.

“I’m a good student.” Hank wiggled his brows.

“Now you like the class?” I asked with a wry brow.

“Let’s take a look at the followers’ footwork. We’re going to start with the right foot, taking a step to the right.” She looked side to side, catching the eyes of the followers, including me. “You will do the same count: one, two, three.” She pointed to her feet. “Now come back the other way. Four, five, six.”

Hank led with his left while I followed with my right for two steps and then back.

“Very nice.” Corie was pleased. “Stay in position while I get the music on.”

Corie gracefully swept across the floor to talk to Ricky—or more like fuss at Ricky. He had his chin down and bent toward her neck as if he didn’t want us to see them arguing.

“You’re a playboy, and it’ll get you nowhere.” There was a bite in Corie’s voice.

Ricky gave her a squinted look.

“One of these days, you’re going to get your due, but for now, if you screw up this opportunity for me, for us…” She cleared her throat and gave a quick glance over her shoulder at us. We were all watching and waiting for her, frozen in our positions. “Put it this way—I won’t let you screw this up for me.”

She picked her phone up from the windowsill and slid her finger up the screen. “We will do this step until we have all mastered it,” she said with a fake smile as the music started.

“One, two, three.” I mouthed the count and looked down. “Four, five, six.”

“Followers, look into your leader’s eyes, not at your feet.” Her voice boomed over the music. She and Ricky kept to the beat in perfect time.

Dottie fumbled around the dance floor with Betts. Queenie laughed the whole time.

“Leaders, shoulders away from the ears and back. Good posture. How do you lead with bad form? You don’t.” Corie continued to instruct, not realizing everyone in class was somewhat lost.

She and Ricky stood in the middle of the circle of couples. Corie placed one hand on her stomach and pretended to pull up a string above her head with the other in order to show off her good form, then she used her hands on Ricky’s body to properly demonstrate.

Ricky took Corie into his arms and swept her across the floor next to Kirby and Felicity.

“Feel the music,” Corie told them. “This is someone you love, no?” she asked them.

It was Kirby and Felicity’s five-year wedding anniversary. I only knew because they’d gotten the anniversary-gift basket add-on for the bungalow they’d rented for the week of Valentine’s Day.

“Of course I love her.” Kirby snorted while rolling his eyes.

“You don’t act like it,” Felicity said with a voice that didn’t sound like she was teasing and smacked his arm.

“Why did you do that?” Kirby questioned his wife as he glared and jerked away from her.

“Because you aren’t doing this for us.” Felicity sniffed, bringing her hand up to her nose.

“I am doing this for you,” Kirby spat. “I sure ain’t doing it for me. I should be working on the car.”

“Fine.” Felicity stomped even farther away from him. “Go work on your stupid car, and don’t worry about our marriage. I should’ve listened to my dad and left you a long time ago. You…” She hesitated. “You’re worthless!”

“Why do you have to always get on me like that?” Kirby hurried out of the barn behind her, leaving us all standing there in silence other than the music playing in the background.

“I know the feeling, honey.” Abby thought she was being funny. By the way Bobby Ray reacted, I could tell something was wrong. “Oh, stop it.” Abby brought him closer to her. “You are a workaholic when it comes to cars.”

“It’s my job, Abby.” Bobby Ray let go of her hands. “I’m a mechanic. And you sure like to spend money.”

Abby’s face reddened.

“Then could you possibly help out Kirby and Felicity with their car problems?” Corie injected herself when the tension in the room became very strong.

“I bet they’d be more appreciative,” Bobby Ray said in acceptance but aimed his words at Abby. “I’m done for the day. I’ve got to get to work anyways.” He walked away, throwing a hand behind him.

“‘The day?” Abby yelled after him. “We just started.” She threw her hands up in the air as her jaw dropped. As she turned her head to look at me, her eyes grew bigger and bigger. “Can you believe him?” Abby asked our group of friends.

“This was supposed to be fun,” Queenie said. “Not get everyone upset. Maybe I was wrong in suggesting Corie come to teach, but it’s a month of love, and the competition is hosted in Normal this year.”

“It is a good idea,” I confirmed to her so she wouldn’t feel bad. “I love offering classes to my guests, and I hope they go and watch the competition.”

“Unbelievable.” Abby gasped, apparently upset we didn’t agree with her. She bolted out the door.

“What shall we do?” Corie looked at me for answers.

“I think we can continue.” I pinched a smile, looking around at the other couples as well as Betts, Queenie, and Dottie. They all agreed.

“Very good. Back to the starter position, please.” Corie continued with the counting. “One, two, three.” She paused and gave one hard nod. “Four, five, six.”

“What do you think that was about?” I asked Hank.

“Bobby Ray or the other couple?” He pulled me closer.

“I have no idea. Something is in the air.” I felt him bring me even closer, so I held on.

“Love.” He picked me up and swung me around. “Love is in the air.”

“No! No!” Corie called from across the room. “That’s not a move, and it’s certainly not what anyone else should be doing.”

It was like Hank had started a trend. All the couples were twirling each other around, sending Corie into an all-out tizzy.

I threw my head back and laughed.

Something was definitely in the air.

end of excerpt

Vistas, Vices, & Valentines

is available in the following formats:

Jan 27, 2022


ISBN-13: 9798408943050

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