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Witness, Woods, & Wedding

Book 33 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series

Welcome to Normal where nothing is normal.In the heart of the charming town of Normal, Kentucky, Mae West has patiently awaited her wedding day to Hank Sharp. Friends and family gather, the crisp autumn air carries the scent of fallen leaves, and laughter dances through the warm Southern breeze. Everything is set for a picture-perfect day, a celebration of love in a town nestled by the serene Daniel Boone National Forest.

But in the South, they say, “Mishaps at weddings are like the rain in April—unexpected but not unusual.” Just as Mae is about to say her vows, a bolt of lightning struck. The news hit like a tornado—literally—a young girl had been murdered, and a tornado has torn through the town, turning everything upside down, including the carefully laid wedding plans.

In a town where mysteries were as common as fireflies on an autumn night, Mae West and the Laundry Club ladies venture where others fear to tread, unearthing long-buried secrets and confronting a darkness that threatened to shatter the tranquility of their beloved Normal.

Another question is on everyone minds, will Mae and Hank finally tie the knot?

Witness, Woods, & Wedding


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Chapter One

The thing about Kentucky weather was that it could go from ninety degrees to fifty within a whip of a breeze. It could be raining one minute then snowing the next. And Mother Nature didn’t factor the time of year, the season, or the social calendar into her decisions.

“How rude,” I mumbled, referring to Mother Nature. I turned off the radio station after the weather person mentioned a storm brewing up from the west, which was unusual in Kentucky.

Normally our storms blew up from the south or even the north. Rarely did they come from the west. Then again, I did live in Normal, Kentucky, where nothing was normal. The town was located in the heart of the Daniel Boone National Forest, which was pretty as all get out.

That was why I chose the fall, I reminded myself, putting out of my head the storm that was supposed to hit within the next twenty-four hours.

“I guess I don’t expect anything different,” I sighed and got off the interstate in Lexington a couple of hours north of me. I was going to pick up a friend from the airport there.

Kentucky was gorgeous in the fall. The famous Kentucky bluegrass was popping, and the colors of the trees in the distance were nothing any famous artist could ever capture in paint.

The unseasonably warm fall temperature was a sure sign something was brewing in the atmosphere, but it wasn’t here yet.

Pulling into the turning lane to make a left into the Blue Grass Airport, I rolled down my window and took a moment to enjoy the air. The sun was low, casting a golden glow that seemed to set the entire landscape on fire.

“What’s that saying?” I asked myself when I saw the red sky and the boater. Or was it the sailor? Whichever term was correct didn’t matter.

What mattered was the meaning, and I remembered it perfectly. Storms ahead.

Forcing the thought out of my head, I focused not on the changing leaves of the trees by the Keeneland horse racing track beyond the stoplight nor on the distant silhouette of the airport’s control tower.

I concentrated on the wildflowers.

They stretched along the roadside, an unruly garden cared for by nature alone. The yellow and purple goldenrods waved like friendly hands as the cars zoomed past them.

Black-eyed Susans peered up with dark, curious eyes, mixed in with asters that had begun to bloom. And then followed the orange and purple cosmos, those chaotic bursts of color that seemed to dance in the light breeze.

I leaned closer to the window, almost pressing my nose to the glass, entranced by this display of natural artistry. It was a final farewell, a goodbye embrace from the land I loved. I could almost smell the flowers’ fragrant blend, mixed with the earthy scent of fall.

The honk behind me made me jump.

“Sorry.” I waved, knowing the driver of the car behind me wanted me to hurry through the turning signal light.

My hands tightened around the steering wheel as I approached the airport’s entrance, and a pang of worry hit me. I wondered if those beautiful wildflowers would withstand the big storm.

I snorted as I pulled up to the curb and threw the old car in park before reaching for my phone to text Parked by pole 5 at baggage claim. My correspondent replied with a  thumbs-up emoji to signal my text was received.

I glanced in the rearview mirror, catching one last glimpse of the wildflowers, a palette of colors that seemed to blend together in perfect harmony. It was exactly what I had wanted for this week.

Perfect harmony.

Well, I’d settle for harmony by itself. Was that so much to ask for?

Surprisingly, only a few minutes passed before she emerged. And with only one bag, a carry-on.

“Hiya!” Violet Rhinehammer yelled, waving her arm in the air.

What? No plus-one? I gave a subtle chin lift and smile, glancing slightly behind her. Surely she had more than one carry-on and her plus-one was getting the suitcases. There had to be a plus-one, and everyone was excited to meet the man who had actually wanted to date Violet Rhinehammer.

“Hi.” I jumped out of the car and popped the trunk open so it was ready for all of her luggage. No doubt she had a whole suitcase just for makeup. I’d even cleaned out my trunk before I left Normal so her stuff would fit.

“How’s the bride?” She squealed and tossed her arms around me. The carry-on thrashed against my back.

“I’m great,” I lied right through my teeth, letting go. Not Violet; she pushed me out to arm’s length. Her eyes scanned my face, seeing right through me.

“That’s a bold-faced lie.” Violet eyeballed me, her eyes narrowing slightly, a playful smirk on her lips. “Oh, I’ve got a Hank-ering something is wrong.” She snickered at her own joke. “Get it?” she started to explain when I didn’t laugh. “Hank-ering as in your soon-to-be husband Hank.”

“Oh, I get it. But Mother Nature doesn’t play any sort of jokes, especially with the storm brewing.” I forced a smile, though it didn’t quite reach my eyes. “But I’m happy you’re here.”

“Are you kidding?” She put her hand on her chest, her eyes widening with faux surprise. “I’m honored the bride is here to pick me up.”

“Of course I am,” I said, faking a smile even though I knew that she knew that none of my friends were about to pick her up. “Besides, I had a nice long chat with Mother Nature about the big day in less than forty-eight hours and how she has to let the big storm blow over.”

That’s all I’m asking for, I told myself as I threw Violet’s carry-on suitcase in the back of the trunk and slammed it shut. One day.

“Oh, is that all?” Violet chuckled and tossed her blond hair over her shoulder, a flicker of amusement in her eyes. “You know that’s going to be a bit hard to do in Kentucky.”

I nodded, reluctantly agreeing with her. “I know, but I’m not asking for the whole year. Just the day.”

We exchanged a glance that wasn’t full of hope. Both of us had endured Kentucky weather and well, let’s just say that even asking for a full day during the brewing of a storm like they were predicting was probably too much.

She laughed, the sound light and airy, full of mirth. “I love Kentucky and all its unpredictability.”

Her eyes sparkled, reflecting my joy. Violet was here, and the wedding was happening. She took my hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

“With or without the storms, it’s going to be perfect,” she said with a real smile. “Holiday Junction is having the storm now. If my flight was an hour later, I wouldn’t be here. From what my colleagues at the Junction Journal are telling me, everything has shut down.” She sat down in the passenger seat and buckled in.

“Colleagues?” I asked, knowing she and her mama were the only employees at the Junction Journal.

Now was a great time to change the subject. And it was about Violet. She could talk about herself for hours, and we had two until we got back to Normal.

“Radley,” she sighed with exhaustion. “Radley is the newest employee. Don’t ask.”

My internal alarm sounded. From the tone of her voice, there was more to Radley than she let on, but I let it slide.

For now.

“What are we waiting on?” She looked over at me, ever the chipper young woman with blond hair neatly parted to the side and layered in loose curls, perfect white teeth, and a big smile. That grin used to cut me to my core when I saw her as the reporter for Channel 2 news, the Normal Gazette, and Good Day in the Park, her own show in Normal.

“Darren,” I said and leaned up a little so I could see if he was coming through the airport’s sliding doors.

“He’s not coming.” She leaned back in her seat against the headrest as she sucked in a deep breath. “He’s in law school and has had very little time for me or anything else.”

“Anything else as in your secret identities?” Even now I was too scared to say the secret identity she and Darren Strickland had assumed in their small town, Holiday Junction.

People thought Normal was nuts. I was here to say that I’d been to Holiday Junction, that that place was flat out crazy, and that Violet Rhinehammer fit right in.

“No.” Violet shook her head. “Nothing.”

“Law school, huh?” I asked.

It wasn’t like Violet and I talked all the time. In fact, when she did live in Normal—which was all her life until she thought she was going to a big job interview because she truly believed that she was the next Barbara Walters and still did to this day—we didn’t talk much.

Her plane made an emergency landing and stuck her in Holiday Junction, which she never left. With time and distance and my need to get some information about something, I had to put aside the differences I’d had from her and call in a favor.

It was then that we’d forged a long-distance relationship that took even me by surprise. You could only imagine how my best friends, a group of women we called the Laundry Club Ladies, were a smidgen taken aback when I told them I was going to spend New Year’s Eve in Holiday Junction with Violet.

Here we were today.


Mother Nature being a pill.

Unseasonable storms brewing.

Right in time for my wedding.

And that was why I thought Mother Nature was rude.

As we drove back toward Normal, the sun dipped lower, casting a magical glow over the wildflowers and landscape of my beloved Kentucky. My heart was full of hope, love, and the promise of new beginnings.

In a couple of days, I would be Mrs. Hank Sharp, even though I was keeping my name. A story for another time altogether.

Finally marrying the man I was intended for meant my adventures were only starting, and I was ready to face whatever came next.

Unfortunately, a ping in my gut told me that whatever came next was going to test our marriage before it even began.

end of excerpt

Witness, Woods, & Wedding

is available in the following formats:

Tonya Kappes Books

Oct 22, 2023

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