Bobbye Terry’s Nick of Time:
Here’s the set-up:
New violence arrives to the town of Climax, lurking beneath the conventions and quirks of a down-home southern lifestyle. In the middle of the chaos, Sheriff’s assistant, Emily Franklin falls in love with newcomer Nick Troy and the two embark on a treacherous journey to discover who is hiding behind an evil web of crime. Amidst kidnappings, trafficking and murder, will the lovers’ happily ever after turn into a drearily dead down under?Have you read Coming to Climax? Book One in the Climax, Virginia Mystery Series.
The author hopes you will enjoy this free excerpt:
“Easier than trapping the Easter Bunny.”
Caja stood in the forest, on a dank mat of leaves, right next to his prize. Execution, flawless.
The dark skinned woman, long black hair glistening in the few remaining sun rays of the day, struggled in the trap dangling from the hickory tree. Her shadow cast notched, distorted images across the rotting vegetation of the swampy woodland soil.
“Tengo que escapar,” she screeched, her voice echoing through the trees. “The Saints save me.”
“No Saints, lady, and no escaping either.”
At the sound of footfalls shifting leaves on the forest floor, Caja glanced in the distance. Monstruo sprinted toward them. Panting heavily, the guy halted when he saw her. Leering at the woman, he approached the snared prey.
“Good work.” Leaning over to the netting, Monstruo stuck his hand through it and grabbed her breast. She thrashed to escape his hand, whimpering, but he squeezed down and kissed the air. “Good set of jugs. What a pity.”
“Where’s her old man?” Caja stared off in the distance.
“Tied up in the back of that abandoned excuse for a house.” Monstruo grinned as he licked his lips. “Let’s cut her down and take her back there, have some fun.” His laughter echoed through the forest, maniacal and icily haunting.
Caja shuddered. This one didn’t have a single civil nerve ending. “What’re you gonna do?”
Monstruo wrapped his finger around a strand of her hair. “Right now, dip my stick.”
“Let me go, I have a child at home.” The woman struggled again against her bindings.
Caja’s eyes flew open. “Oh for Christ’s sake, she’s gotta kid somewhere.”
“He ain’t got her.”
Caja shifted his feet. “I thought we just wanted to get them out of the picture. Then go get a beer.”
Monstruo frowned at him. “We’re getting them out of the picture. After a little fun.” He grinned at the woman. “This won’t take that long. The night is young.” He laughed again. “Then, little lady, you can have your man. We’ll help you cement your relationship.”
The door of the house squeaked open a couple of inches, the safety chain still latched. Bright blue eyes peered through the crack. “I see by your truck you’re in construction, I don’t need any repair. Too late anyway. Feel free to visit me tomorrow at the Sheriff’s Office.” She slammed the door shut.
Scowling, Nick Troy turned to Grady. “That’s the oddest welcome I’ve ever had. Do you think Taylor’s sister hates him?”
“Try again, boss. Maybe Taylor got his wires crossed. Wouldn’t be the first time.”
Nick knocked on the door. “Please open up, we’re not soliciting.” The door inched open one more time. He stared at the woman, only seeing her bright blue eyes glaring into his. “Look, we’re supposed to be here. You are Emily Franklin, aren’t you?”
She blinked. “If I am?”
“We work with your brother.” He smirked. “Taylor told us we could stay here while we’re on the project.” He fished a card out of his pocket and poked it through the door.
She snatched it with two fingers and drew it through the tiny opening.
At the sound of the latch coming undone, he sighed in relief. For a minute he’d thought the barrel of a shotgun was next.
“I…I’m sorry. Taylor didn’t tell me anything about your coming. There’s been a scam going on here in the community, and, since you drove down here for more than mile on a private road, I just…” She placed a hand on one hip and swung the door open.
“Never mind, come inside. Guess I’ll need to freshen up a room for you.”
The woman was splotched red from her upper chest all the way up her neck. However, the reddish brown hair was what caused Nick’s gut to constrict. A redhead. Jeeze. He was a sucker for the hot ones.
Grady stepped forward. “My friend’s been struck mute, and he doesn’t have any manners. Name’s Grady Allison. Nice to meet you ma’am.” He elbowed Nick. “This here is Nick Troy, Taylor’s right hand man.”
She smiled broadly and sighed. “Nice to meet you Grady. As you already know, I’m Emily Franklin, Taylor’s ill-informed little sister. I’m happy to know one of my guests is from the South.”
Nick ground his teeth. “I’ve lived in the South for ten years.”
“Sorry.” She giggled like a little girl. “You still sound like you’re from California.” Her eyes flew open. “Not that it’s a bad thing. Some of my best friends are from states outside the South. Carolina Mann was raised in New York City. Can’t get any less like Dixie. And her husband’s from there, too. They settled here. We’re friendly.”
“Nice to know you won’t round me up on a reservation.” Nick fisted his hands by his sides as he realized he’d made the statement out loud.
Grady convulsed in laughter. “You think he’s funny now, wait ’til you get to know him.”
Emily smiled civilly, but, as she looked at Nick, her eyes narrowed into slits. “I’m sure.” Her voice could have flash-frozen the air. “I’ll show you to your rooms.”
Minutes later, they unpacked their things in two adjoining guestrooms and Grady joined Nick in his. “You made quite a hit with the little lady.”
He exhaled. “That’s me. A charmer. Women fall at my feet.”
Grady sat on the edge of the bed as Nick packed away the last of his tee-shirts. “They could. If you’d let ’em through that famous impervious barrier. Who did that to you?”
“What?” he asked.
“You know. Emasculate?”
He shook his head. “Guess it started with my mother. Don’t dig up old wounds. I am like I want to be.”
“Anything you say, buddy.” Grady stood and placed his hands on his hips. “When do we get started?”
“First thing tomorrow.” Nick turned and tucked his shirt back into his jeans. “Unless that woman eases up downstairs, I’m thinking we need to get this job done as fast as possible. I’m sure as hell not going to ask for food here. How about getting some grub at that bar up the road?”
“Taylor sent you a man?” Carolina stared at Emily, her eyes crinkled with amusement.
“Two of them, one our age and an older guy. When I called Taylor, he thought the whole thing was one big joke. He didn’t even apologize for not telling me they were coming.” Emily threw her purse on the sofa and collapsed next to it.
“The question is why are they here?”
“My brother is convinced this is a good place to build a Dazzle Distribution Center.”
“Dazzle? In Climax?” Carolina chuckled. “Has he taken leave of his senses?”
Emily nodded. “Exactly what I said. Anyway, he never listens to me, so let the giant wheels of enterprise turn. Seems this guy who’s here is a VP. I guess even Taylor realized it was going to take panache. I don’t know why he thinks they can just pop in and stay with me for like, two or three months.”
“I’d think you’d be happy to have company in that behemoth of a house.” Carolina rested her hand on her baby bump. “I’ve been worried sick about your being there moping around, even your cat gone. Especially since I got married.”
Emily nodded. “Okay, things change when your friends get hitched, but you’re still my best bud. Why do you think I came over here and told you what Taylor’s doing?”
“To get away from them.” Carolina grinned as Emily gave her the finger. “Okay, and to spread the word, too. You won’t ever change. You’re better than an MSNBC newsfeed. Taylor’s just conducting business. I don’t know if he remembers how anti-change this area is. As for your houseguests, give the poor men a chance. I assume they’re from Charlotte, so they’re from the South. It’s not like they’ll have four heads.” She paused. “I guess since that’s two men, it is four heads.” She chuckled.
“The VP’s from California.” Emily nodded emphatically. “According to Taylor, the guy’s dad was Reggie Troy, that TV weekend outdoor wonder man back umpteen million years ago. You know, the one who braved the Alaskan frontier with a kayak and a canteen of water and lived on whale blubber and melted snow when the canteen ran out?”
“Yeah,” Carolina breathed reverently. “Daddy Blue used to love those shows. Never missed an episode. He really liked the one down on the Amazon. Who’d have known you could do all those things with one match and the empty book they came in? If they’d had DVR then, he’d have recorded it.” She turned to Emily. “One thing I can say, though. If Troy’s son looks anything like he did back then, your hormones are going to be boinking around that house’s walls like ping pong balls.”
“That’s the only boinking that’ll ever happen in that house. Besides, I’m pretty sure this guy’s gay. He sure as hell wasn’t trying to exude any sex appeal. A waste of a great body.” Emily blew out a frustrated breath. “Let’s talk about you for awhile. How’s Andy doing at the elementary school?”
Carolina smiled. “It’s been an adjustment from college professor to principal, but he’s doing great. I think he really likes it, but he’s still trying to prove himself with the teachers. You know how self-righteous people can be. A couple of them thought they should have gotten a promotion into the position and begrudge his walking in from outside and taking over.”
“They’re lucky to have him.” Emily stroked her friend’s shoulder.
“Thanks.” Carolina’s bottom lip quivered. “I really want him to be happy here, not feel tied down just because of me and the family, though I know he loves all of them.”
Emily smiled. “That’s the only reason to be where you are. Why do you think I stayed in Climax?”
Carolina cocked her head sideways. “I just thought you believed you owed it to your dad after your mom died.”
Emily shook her head, smiling wistfully, wishing her mom were still alive. “No, truth be told, I don’t think I could ever leave Climax. Its roots have grown into my feet and up into my heart. It makes me bloom just to think about it.”
Carolina teared up, pulling a tissue from a box on the end table. “Sorry. Just a pregnant lady with changing moods. Andy’s got a box of tissues everywhere.”
Emily smiled. “Enjoy every minute.” I know I will, because it’ll never happen to me.
Caja followed Monstruo up the steps to the B&B, nauseous and shaking and desperately desiring a shower. Last night’s escapades produced a pungent after-taste in his mouth, one he couldn’t wash down with a six pack of beer. Extreme apprehension consumed him. Monstruo’s company was oppressive.
Caja took a deep breath and forced the images of the violated girl from his mind. As they’d bricked up the wall in the house, her bloodcurdling screams, pleas for mercy, sobs of hopelessness, filled his mind, now forever branded. Not believing in ghosts, he didn’t fear them haunting him. He feared his own mortality if he stayed near this man, the people in this scheme. And he prayed he didn’t go back to that house ’til those two were dead and the odor no longer permeated the building, marking him like a tattoo that couldn’t be erased.
“Hey, Mama!” Monstruo yelled at Connie, the B&B owner. “Apúrate, get us some iced tea. We’re sweating like two stuck pigs.”
The blonde darted him a glare. “If you want to stay in this B&B, tone it down. Iced tea is served in the dining area.”
“Woo, hoo. You must be on the rag, woman. Get a load off.” He stuck his elbow in her side. “Hey, you want some action, you know where my room is.”
She darted past him and out of the foyer.
“You really know how to win friends and influence innkeepers.” Caja crossed his arms across his chest.
Monstruo, already high from the beer he drank on the way home in the truck, slapped his arm backwards, smacking Caja in his chest. “Shit, she’s used to it. Women livin’ round here seen all sorts. And fucked most them.” He headed for the stairs and began to climb them. “I’m gonna go wash off the stink.”
Caja watched him ascend. “I doubt it’ll ever come off.”
“Land sakes, child. You look like someone just walked over your grave and spit.”
Aunt Millie stood in front of Emily with an order pad, staring at her niece with the woman’s normal x-ray vision.
“I have houseguests. Unexpected ones.” Emily gazed blankly at the menu. “Just give me a cheeseburger, double fries and a chocolate malted.”
Aunt Millie wrote down the order. “One of them must be good looking.”
Emily’s head jerked up to meet her eyes. “Why do you say that?”
Her aunt shrugged. “You always stock up on calories when you’re compensating for acting on your desires.”
“I’m eating out of anger.”
“Why’s that?” Aunt Millie leaned her elbow on the counter.
“Millie,” a guy yelled from the end of the lunch counter. “Stop your gossiping and bring me my lunch!”
She stood up and yelled back, “Your belly could wait on lunch for five days. Hang tight. I’m conferring with my niece.” Leaning back down, she smiled. “Now go ahead and spill. Hurry before Earl gets desperate and starts gnawing on the Formica.”
Emily chuckled in spite herself. “I have one of those irritating men in my house.”
Aunt Millie shook her head. “They’re all irritating, honey, unless you massage their ego and other parts of their anatomy. Give me the vitals. Looks first, then personality.”
Emily rolled her eyes. “Oh six two or so, lean but muscular. Blond and tanned. Pale blue eyes. Probably thirtyish. His supervisor’s not bad either. About your age, in good shape with gray eyes.”
Aunt Millie laughed and threw her arms open. “What’s not to love?”
Emily pulled extra napkins from the holder and sighed. “The older guy seems really nice and he’s Southern, but the one near my age needs manners. Even made a crack about no breakfast this morning. He said, ‘I see you’re one of those career women who doesn’t cook.’ Acidic wit. You know, how they insult you without making a direct frontal attack? All the bad and none of the good?”
Her aunt smiled. “Men need food in the morning darlin’, not a just a cup of coffee and a doughnut. If you feed him, he may be a lot nicer.” She patted her hand. “Let him sit awhile. I bet he just mellows out real fine.”
“I don’t know.” Emily glanced up at her. “How about you come over tonight? He’ll have his construction supervisor with him. You can restrain me from killing the guy and keep some civil conversation going.”
“I’ll be there in a minute, sweetie,” she yelled back. Her aunt winked at Emily. “Okay I’m game. Let me go now and accidentally pour a glass of water in Earl’s lap.”
Nick stared at the site for the distribution plant and glowered. “How did this happen, Kramer?”
The guy took off his cap and scratched his head. “Don’t have a clue, Mr. Troy. Jest got in here from a job up in Roanoke and, after two wrong turns tryin’ to find where in the hell this place is, that’s what I found.”
The three men stared silently at the property. Trees lay sprawled across the site, huge black plastic bags of garbage strewn all over that. “It looks like somebody set off explosives and then robbed the landfill,” Kramer told them. “Never seen anything like it. Far enough from town, doubt anybody ever heard anybody do it.”
“From what Taylor told me about the women here, I’m surprised.” He turned and glanced at Grady. “Taylor said they know about your shit before you take it.”
Grady snickered. “Sounds like Taylor. But, this isn’t funny.” He glanced over at Kramer. “Have any idea who did it?”
The guy shook his head. “Look, man, I’m not from around here, jest a reputable demo man contracting with you. I’m based out of Richmond.”
“How much more will I owe you to clean it up?” Nick asked.
Kramer took his handkerchief out of his pocket and mopped off his forehead. “Gee, I don’t know if the garbage is hazardous, or what’s under the trees…”
“Ten thousand extra, assuming you still make the deadline.”
“Done.” Kramer put his cap back on. “I’ll go get the crew and start working.”
Grady chuckled as the contractor walked away. “Man, you’re quick and to the point.”
“We can’t waste any time. After all…”
“Yeah, yeah,” Grady said. “Time is golden.”
“Smells mighty fine. Mighty fine.”
Emily looked up at the sound of Grady’s voice. “I’m in the kitchen,” she yelled. “Just around the corner.” She pulled a roast beef out of the oven as he walked into the room. “Hope you two are hungry.”
“Wow.” Grady walked into the kitchen. “Haven’t had any of the stuff that isn’t packed in a can in a powerful long time.”
She wrinkled her nose. “They put roast beef in a can?”
He nodded. “Chunks in gravy.”
Emily laughed. “What you’ve been eating is dog food. This is the real thing.”
Grady took an appreciative whiff. “Sure smells like it is. And it looks better than that.”
“Where’s Nick?” She peered around him.
“He’s on the phone with your brother.”
“Is something wrong?” Emily frowned. “Taylor prefers not to be bothered with business calls after hours. I know, ’cause I’ve called him when he’s been fussing about that.”
He nodded. “I know, but Nick had to. We ran into a cluster fuck. Whoops sorry, ’bout the language.”
“I’ve heard it before.” Emily chuckled. “What happened?”
Grady told her what they’d found at the site.
“Get out of here! I want to say nothing like that happens in Climax, but a few months ago, we had a flurry of madness.”
“Really? Here in the middle of nowhere?”
“Yep. This guy with two personalities, psycho, you know. He was after my best friend’s mother who’d divorced him twenty plus years ago. In the process of setting things up, he murdered three moonshiners, the woman who ran the B&B and another woman outside Chatham. The woman in the B&B was sliced to smithereens.”
Grady’s eyes almost bugged out of his head. “Wait a minute. What kind of place is this?”
“It’s not usually like that.” Emily laughed. “Place hadn’t see a murder in more than fifty years before that. Anyway, the guy’s dead. Blown away.”
“Good thing. I was getting ready to change my plane tickets to go home.”
“What do you mean you’re going home?” Nick walked into the kitchen.
Grady slapped him on the arm. “Nick, I’m not going anywhere. But you need to get Emily to tell you about what happened here a while back.”
His face was solemn, lips straight across. He stared at Emily. “Guess you can cook.”
She wanted to smack him. Instead she killed him with Southern kindness. “I did it just for you guys. You know, just like the little homebody.”
Grady grabbed his arm. “Stop chiding the cook. She was just telling me about this guy who came to town and …”
“If it doesn’t have to do with this mess, I don’t care. Taylor just said what he always does about problems. No advice or assistance, just, ‘Solve it.'”
“You know, I’m aware my brother is all business, but I didn’t know he was that bad.” She carried the roast to the table. “He hasn’t been home in awhile, and he’s losing his natural Southern charm. How about putting work behind you and eat?”
Nick scoffed. “I don’t put work behind me.”
She turned her eyes on Nick’s face, glaring at him. He fell back one step. “Then you better learn before you die.” Emily set the roast down.
At Grady’s grin, and Nick’s shocked face, she felt smug. He walked to the table and sat down.
Emily chuckled to herself. I did it, put him in his place.Two points for me. “Everything else is already there,” she said. “And Aunt Millie will be here any minute. Chow down.”
An hour later, Aunt Millie was laughing, slapping Grady on the shoulder. “You’re a natural born storyteller. You fit right in here in Climax.”
Emily pursed her lips to keep from smiling and turned to Nick, who sat silent and glum in a side chair. “Are we keeping you up?”
“Huh?” Nick turned toward her, his brows knitted together. “Sorry. I just can’t understand why someone would have vandalized the property that way. What kind of nuts live around here, anyway?”
“In Climax?” Emily doubled over in laughter. “You’ve got to be kidding. This is the moonshine capital of the world. We have misfits the same way other people have children.”
Aunt Millie’s face sobered. “Emily, that’s not accurate. We have a bunch of eccentric people, but most of us are basically normal, with a few quirks like most people.” She shook her head. “Most of the real problems stem from outsiders.” She waved her hand. “Present company excluded. Connie Miller over at the B&B was telling me at lunch how two guys staying there were mighty strange. In fact, she said one of them was bordering on getting thrown out. Seems the guy’s got a real foul mouth and is making lewd suggestions.”
“And to think she has to put up with that after what happened to her mother.” Emily shook her head.
“A man doesn’t do that to a lady.” Grady’s chin popped up. “I’ll be happy to go over there and teach the guy some manners.
Aunt Millie shook her head. “No worries. We women in Climax can handle most anything. Connie just got back here, so she hasn’t acclimated herself back to the community, but no mistakin’ she’s a Miller. If she needs help, she’ll holler.”
Nick rubbed his eyes. “I feel like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole.”
“Most people do when they come here the first time.” Emily grinned. The guy had a lot to learn about her town. “You need to go and talk to Andy Mann. He’s the principal at the elementary school.”
“Why should I talk to him?”
Emily winked. “He’s not from here, either. You two have a lot in common.”
“You mean you came over here to see me because Emily Franklin suggested you should?” Andy chuckled as he sat down on a metal chair in the cafeteria.
Nick stood next to the long table. “Yep. Something she said struck a chord about my being an outsider and not knowing how things worked here. I’m going to be in the area awhile and start a business for my boss. I thought it’d help to get the skinny. And the truth is, I don’t think she’d fill me in. It seems I rub her the wrong way.”
“That I seriously doubt, but I’ll try to help.” Andy pulled two sandwiches stuffed with what looked like ham and cheese with lettuce and tomato, a bag of chips and two apples out of his zippered lunch sack.
“At least you have a lot to eat on while we talk.”
Andy glanced down at the food and then back up at Nick. “This isn’t really all for me.” He lowered his voice. “There’s this Hispanic kid who goes to school here. He was born in this country, but his parents are migrant workers. They desperately want him to have an education, and he’s really smart, good grades. But they must be running out of money, because he’s come to school the last few days without any lunch or money to pay for one. So, I just tell him I don’t feel like finishing mine.”
Nick grinned. He loved people with big hearts. “That’s really nice, Andy. I like you better already.”
Andy shook his head. “Not trying to win any awards. I just remember some of the kids back in New York City where I’m from. Besides, my wife’s pregnant. I’d hope someone would do that for our kid if we couldn’t afford to feed him.”
“That’s a wonderful gesture. I don’t know if I’d have thought of it.”
“I’m sure you would. Especially if you were watching over all these kids every day.”
Nick nodded as he sank into the chair next to Andy. “Probably so. Listen, changing the subject, someone victimized the construction site where we’re going to build a distribution center outside of town. Have any idea who’d do something like that?”
Andy frowned as he unwrapped one sandwich. “No kidding? Nope, not right off hand. Didn’t even see it. What kind of distribution building are you putting up?”
Nick explained about Dazzle.
Andy whistled. “Well, there you go. It could be someone around here that doesn’t like the sounds of anything that big coming into or near our town. They’re not into a big population explosion here. In fact, some of the moonshiners may have sabotaged the site. My father-in-law would know. You need to have a talk with him. He can tell you how everyone around here ticks.”
Nick leaned his arm on the table. “I guess that’s it. Taylor did say I might run into some resistance.”
“Better watch out too,” Andy said. “These people carry guns and they know how to shoot. Not just the men either.”
“Sounds like Texas.”
“Just as bad.” Andy grinned. “But if you fit in, everyone watches your back.”
“How do I do that? Fit in, I mean?” Nick’s stomach growled as he watched Andy take a bite of sandwich and then sip from a small milk carton. He’d better go get lunch after this.
“How do you fit in?” Andy answered. “Just be nice to people, not gruff. Ask questions, and be helpful. As for Emily, she will be more than willing to fill you in, to the point of ad nauseam. But whatever you do, don’t make any advances.”
“Why?” Nick cocked his head sideways.
“She’s clingy. The woman wants to get married really bad.”
Nick laughed. “I run from women like that. In fact, these days I run from most of them.”
Andy’s eyebrows went up. “You’re warned buddy.”
Suddenly a little boy approached the table. Not very tall with dark brown hair, huge chocolate eyes and golden skin, he smiled at Andy and patted him on the arm. “Perdone, Señor Mann. I don’t suppose you have any sandwich you don’t feel like eating today, do you?”
Andy leaned down to look the boy in the eyes. “As a matter of fact, Carlos, my wife gave me too much again. Could you help me out?” He handed the boy the extra sandwich, the chips and an apple.
The kid’s face lit up like he’d just won the lottery. “Oh, Señor, you must want to eat some more?”
“No, take it Carlos.” Andy rubbed his back. “You’d do me a big favor. I can’t take it home. My wife would be mad.”
“I will take it off your hands, Señor.” He bowed.
Andy gestured to Nick. “Say hello to my friend Nick before you go eat.”
The little boy stared up at Nick and his face broke out in a huge grin. It lit Nick up inside, for the smile was so genuine. “You have nice hair, Señor Nick. Ladies must like you.” He stood up straight. “I wish I had hair your color.”
Nick laughed. “I think yours is very nice. You must like yourself for the person you are.”
“Sí.” He grinned again. “I try. Mama say so too. Perdone, I go eat now.” He ran off to the end of a table by himself and sat down. Ripping into the plastic wrap, the kid began to devour the sandwich
Nick’s gut constricted. “Doesn’t he have any friends?”
Andy shook his head. “The other children call him chico. They can be prejudiced at any age, but don’t tell me that’s not coming from their parents. I’ve been trying to work on bringing some education in here regarding diversity.” He exhaled. “It takes time. Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Andy glanced back up at Nick. “How about coming over to my father-in-law’s house tonight? Cindy Merriman, a friend of the family, is bringing over dessert, and my mother-in-law is a fabulous cook, now that she’s been practicing. One more is always welcome.”
Nick smiled. “Maybe I will.”
Andy shook his hand. “By the way, Emily’s invited. Just don’t let her think she’s coming as your date.”
Nick’s phone rang and he answered it. “Hey, Grady. What’s up?” He stood up suddenly. “You’re kidding. Jesus. We don’t need that kind of trouble, or the publicity that goes with it. I’ll be right over.”
“What’s wrong?” Andy asked.
Nick stared at him, in a daze. “The guys just cleaned away those bags and the trees. There was a dead body underneath.”