The Appleton, WV Romantic Mysteries

The Appleton, WV 
Romantic Mysteries series
Background . . .

The first three novels were originally planned 
as romantic novels.

BUT since I'm not a "romance" writer, I shelved that idea.
When the opportunity opened for me to present a new cozy mystery series, I redefined these three books, edited and 
Ta da . . .
The Appleton, WV Romantic Mystery series was born! 



Book One:

Sabotaged Christmas

ABOUT the BOOK:
Toni DeLuca, the Italian owner of DeLuca Construction, 
finds herself confronted with doubts about her father and his possible deceptions--
all because of the mysterious pink notes she’s been receiving.

Relations with Perrin Douglas who has a troubled history--
but the first man in years who’s interested her--is building to a peak. 
Yet Perrin’s own personal problems and his doubts about women and God, 
keep getting in the way.

Gossip, a Spanish proposal, an inheritance, and a sabotaged construction business 
may ruin Christmas for Toni’s employees as well as her happiness.
Will a mysterious person succeed in pulling off the biggest scam 
Appleton, West Virginia has ever seen? 

And will this culprit destroy Toni’s last chance at happiness 

with the man of her dreams?

Read the First Chapter:
Sabotaged Christmas by Carole Brown
Chapter One

Antonietta DeLuca’s glance probed the dark shadows in the front yard of the Wisecup job. The streetlight lit up the orange-leafed maple tree, setting it on fire. The tree limbs dipped and swayed to the whispering music from the autumn wind. Fallen leaves crackled to the left of the empty house she faced. Something moved, and Toni shifted to stare at the spot. 

With a screech, two cats shot past her and crossed the street, yowling like demons in the night. Hands shaking, Toni glared at the scattering offenders and leaned against the mailbox, dragging in deep breaths. 

She shouldn’t have come by herself, but she’d never worried about that before. Her supervisor had begged her to avoid lonely places by herself. Yet she’d needed to do the final inspection of the repairs before signing off on one of their last big projects of the year. With Christmas coming and a long winter ahead, that meant money in her pocket and her employees’ pockets. 

Drawing in another deep breath, she started up the sidewalk and pulled from her pocket the key to the house. The lock clicked, and a faint, far-off shuffle brushed against her senses. Head cocked, she listened. Had that sound come from inside the house? Her lips whispered a prayer even as she twisted the knob and gave the door the slightest push. 

Down the long hallway a light bounced from one of the side rooms. 

Bounced? A candle? No, a flashlight. 

Someone was in this house. 

Reason said to run for help. Tenacity said she couldn’t afford to have this job tampered with. Too much effort, too much time, too much money was involved. 

Teeth clenched, Toni moved forward and grabbed one of the old umbrellas hanging from a line of hooks. Better than nothing. Her lips wanted to twitch at the ridiculous picture she made, but the fear was too great for levity. 

Another five feet, and she was at the doorway of the great room. Someone stood poised at the window, a long and thin object raised. Ready to break the window they faced? A hoodie covered his head, the dark helping to hide his face. The fear drained away. 

“Hey. What are you doing?” 

The figure whirled, hesitated and ran toward her, the gadget he held pointed at her. 

Toni stumbled backward. 

The person shoved past, swiped at her shoulder, missed, and fled down the hall. 

“Stop.” Toni followed, skirted the half-open exterior door, and tripped, sprawling on the concrete porch. Pain shot through her knee, and she grimaced. Struggling to her feet, she limped down the steps and to the street. 

No sign of the intruder. Toni bent and rubbed her knee. But when she straightened, she saw the man, black jacket, hood off his head, at the corner of the street. He seemed to be hesitating as if he’d call out to her, and then he trotted toward her. Was he the intruder? 

She studied his clothes, his height and build. But everything had happened too fast. It was impossible to know for sure. 

She frowned at him. What was he doing? Coming back for another attack? 

Fingers curled into a fist, she marched down the road to meet him. “What do you think you’re doing?” 

She was close enough now to see a brow lift, the shadows in his eyes questioning her mentality. 

“I’m walking home.” Said as if wondering why it was her business, and then he probed, “Are you okay?” 

He didn’t need to think he’d get off that easy. Suspicion reared its head. “Why wouldn’t I be?” 

His glance dipped to her legs. “Well, you are limping.” 

“I am. Because of you.” 

“Me? It’s my fault you‘re limping?” 

Were his lips twitching? Too much denial. A sure sign of a lie. “Were you in the house?” 

“What house?” 

“My house.” 

“And which house is that?” 

Toni shot him a dagger-like look. “Do you live around here? 

“Sort of.” He shrugged 

“What kind of answer is that?” 

“One that’s vague and thin on information. It’s dangerous to be out so late at night by yourself.” 

Her heart jumped to her throat. Did she dare ask any more questions? Like why he’d invaded the house her team had finished remodeling today. “Is that a threat?” 

“No. Not at all. Where do you live?” 

As if she’d tell him. “I don’t know you.” 

“And I don’t know you.” He grinned. “I’ve got to go. Have an early day tomorrow. See you around.” 

Maybe. 

She was sure as anything this man was the one in the house. She had no proof. Knew nothing about him. But she would. First thing tomorrow. She’d had enough threats. 

~*~ 

The pink envelope stuck out from the untidy pile of mail Roxie dumped on her desk the next morning. Toni plucked it from the rest. She stared at the envelope, the elegant handwritten address. No return address, but the postal mark said Appleton. 

Lifting it to her nose, she sniffed. Her stomach revolted at the cloying wisteria scent. As if handling a live bomb, Toni lifted the flap and withdrew the single flimsy card. 

Time’s running out. For you. And your dad. 

For her dad? That didn’t make sense. Toni let go of the missive, and it fluttered to her desktop and laid there, the taunting words daring her to ignore it. 

Two weeks ago on a Friday, the first had arrived in all its gaudy glory. She’d laughed and almost tossed the silly card into the trash. At the last minute, she’d stuffed both envelope and card into a side drawer and forgotten about it. 

The second arrived the following week. Her heart beat just a bit quicker, but she refused to give in to the panic. Someone playing a prank. Not very clever or even funny. Into the drawer it’d gone with the first. 

But the damage on their current construction site had been annoying and scary. Not only in lost labor time, but having to re-stock the stolen material had put a serious damper on her spirits. And the company bank account. 

She laid all three notes side by side and studied them. 
Leave town on your own or I’ll force you! 
Everyone knows what a fake your father was
And now: Time’s running out. For you. And your dad. 

They’d all been handwritten so neatly, so precisely. 

Her father? A fake? What kind of sick person thought this was funny? Her father was one of the best, and everyone in Appleton knew it. It was impossible for private matters to be kept quiet in a small town. But she had no secrets, and she’d never given a thought her father might have any. 

Besides, it was all nonsense and a lie. Her father would have told her if there’d been secrets. 

Wouldn’t he? 

“To-ni.” 

Toni snatched the pink intrusions and threw them back into their hiding place as the door to her office opened, and a bush of red hair thrust itself in. A hand lifted and touched the extra-large, sparkling hairclip attempting to hold back the thick strands from the powdered, freckled face. 

“Are you ready? Rod’s here.” 

“I’m on my way.” Toni grabbed her jacket and briefcase. 

“Hey, how’s our girl doing?” Tall, lanky, fifty-six-year-old Rod Polinsky leaned against the desk where Roxie, the mop-haired redhead, brandished a nail file like a weapon. 

“Are you okay?” Roxie arched an overly plucked brow at her, her eyes drilling through the façade of normalness 

Toni pasted a smile on her face. She winced. She’d never been much good hiding anything from Roxie’s x-ray eyes. 

Toni tried. She really did. But nothing would ever convince her secretary and construction supervisor that she had grown up. To them, she was forever stuck in her teen years. 

“I’m fine.” 

“You sure?” 

“Why are you asking?” Better to tease her out of her over-concern as to take it seriously. 

Roxie resumed her filing, and only glanced at Toni again when she delivered her bombshell. “I overheard Sylvia Searles talking to some of the ladies of the church. Pretty agitated, she was.” 

“And what does that have to do with me?” 

“You were her topic of discussion. Seems you’ve upset her again by your refusal to attend the annual Christmas banquet at Arnie’s place of business.” 

“Oh, dear. Not again. If only she’d leave poor Arnie alone, he’d find someone soon enough.” 

“I think the man in question is in love with you.” Roxie insisted. 

“Nonsense. He only thinks that because his mother won’t let him think anything else.” 

“You can’t force love, Roxie. You know that.” Rod straightened. “It’ll work itself out once Arnie decides to do his own choosing. Don’t bug Toni about it.” 

“I’m just saying.” Roxie pouted. 

“Enough about that.” Toni smiled at Rod. “Ready to get that new contract signed and sealed?” 

“Sure am. I promised to give all four of our guys a call tonight. A little pre-Christmas promise they can share with their families.” 

“Right. Let’s go then.” She closed her mind to her unwanted secret mail. All her attention needed to be riveted on getting this contract. No need to focus on what she didn’t understand. 

 ~*~ 

“This is it?” Toni stared at the old fashion house with the broad, wrap-around porch. “That’s odd.” 

“What’s the matter, Toni?” 

“I don’t know, but I have a funny feeling. Like I’ve been here before, but as far as I can remember, I haven’t.” She shook her head. “I guess its déjà vu kicking in, huh?” 

Toni eyed the front of the house. It could have been a handsome place, but let go, it had become the worst on the block, and the lack of any sign of Christmas decorations made it stick out like a swollen stubbed toe. Definitely in need of construction repairs and some Christmas spirit. 

“Could be, but right now, all you need to do is concentrate on getting this contract signed.” 

“You’re right. That’s priority. Coming?” 

Rod shoved a hand over his head, smoothing back his grayish blond hair in a style reminiscent of the fifties—a blond Elvis. “You can handle it. If you don’t mind, I’ll sit here and enjoy my music.” 

Toni chuckled and swung her door open. Rod might come across as an old time rock ‘n roller, but he was bluegrass all the way. 

A sense of relief washed over her as she knocked on the door. Wrong door. She distinctly remembered an oak door, plain, no windows. She’d never been here. 

“You’re Toni DeLuca? 

Toni looked up. The man from last night faced her, and her mouth dropped open. “What are you doing here?” 

“I live here.” 

“You live here? In this house? In Appleton?” 

“Is that a problem?” His eyes narrowed. “Why are you here?” 

Turning the tables, was he? Thinking he could run over her with his questions? "I came to-to…” 

There went that left brow. Amused, again? Laughing at her confusion? 

“I do have an appointment…” He made a show of glancing at his expensive watch. “…right about now, if you don’t have anything better to do than annoy your neighbors. At least, I’m assuming that’s what you are.” 

She opened her mouth to refute his unfair accusation when she saw his mouth twitch. He was laughing. At her. Pretending he didn’t know why she was here. 

He clicked his fingers and pointed at her. “I’ve got it. You’re the secretary at DeLuca Construction. Could you run along and tell your boss—Tony Deluca, was it?—that I prefer to deal with him?’ 

Was he serious? He was awfully good at avoiding her questions. And making her look like the idiot. 

“No, I’m not.” She looked up at him standing in the doorway and swallowed. She wanted to badger him into confessing about last night, but with the promise of a much-needed contract, she wouldn’t. Toni bit back her sarcasm. “I’ve brought the contract by for you to sign. I own DeLuca Construction.” 

“I thought…” The man paused, took off his glasses, and rubbed at his eyes. “I thought when I talked previously with the secretary, Toni DeLuca was a man. Is he one of your employees?”

“Rod?” 

“No. Toni Deluca.” 

Were the names bothering the man? Or was he uncomfortable hiring her company because he had an agenda against them? “Rod supervises DeLuca Construction. I own the business.” 

“And you are Toni DeLuca?” 

Hadn’t she just said so? What was wrong with him? 

Toni shifted just enough so she could cast a glance back at Rod sitting at the curb in her 56 Chevy truck, bluegrass Christmas music blasting from a CD. He lifted a hand. His broad, tanned face spread in a you’re-my-pal grin. Bushy eyebrows rose as if asking if she needed help. “So you want to build my addition?” 

The man in the doorway followed her gaze and seemed to be studying the violet-colored truck. He swung his gaze back to her. His face clouded. “I doubt you could lift a hammer, let alone a board.” 

Ah, ha. He must have finally figured out who she was. “Of course I can, but DeLuca construction will build your addition.” 

Toni eyed her prospective client—a client she’d thought she had sewed up and in the bag. Well, this guy wasn’t the first prospective client she’d had to reassure to gain the work. She took a deep breath, gripped her clipboard tighter, and eased into her coaxing mode. 

“I won’t be doing the actual work. Rod…” Toni nodded at the truck with the big man inside it. “…and my four workers will do it. I’m just here with the contract for you. As soon as this is signed, I’ll be out of your hair—so to speak. We’ll be able to start, and the sooner we start, the sooner the job will be finished.” 

Toni flapped a sheaf of papers, and Perrin’s gaze took in her gesture. As far as she could tell, her words made not the slightest impression on him. “I think I’ve a good idea of what you want regarding the addition. Rod and I went over your plans pretty thoroughly, and I made it a priority to get the contract right for you. Anyone in town can vouch for the DeLuca Company—and me.” 

Maybe it would have been better for Roxie to never have gotten the phone call from Mr. Douglas two months ago when he’d inquired about hiring them. Lord knew, since she’d inherited her dad’s business, she’d had her share of disgruntled clients wanting unrealistic results. 

The promise of this job meant a lot to her men. Rod and Roxie, and the four laborers depended on DeLuca Construction for their livelihood. On her. Right now, filling that need meant getting this job. 

Toni shivered in the blast of cold air and glanced again at Rod. He grinned, shrugged, and nodded his head. Meaning, rein in her temper and get the job. 

Douglas grimaced and stepped back. “Well, in spite of your nosiness and a little bit of weirdness last night, I know I don’t have time to research and locate another company. Come in, and we’ll talk.” 

Toni clamped her mouth shut to keep from spewing out words she knew she’d regret, and stepped inside. Her gaze fastened on the long walking stick leaning in the corner of the hallway. The weapon he’d tried to use last night to break her shoulder? 

Her gaze flickered back to his face.


Grab the book here:



* * * * * * * * * * * * * *



Book Two:
A Knight in Shining Apron


About the Book:
Starli Cameron gave up her career plans to be a concert pianist to marry the man of her dreams. He turned out to be a nightmare. When he dies in a car accident, Starli takes the insurance money and builds a successful and upscale restaurant: Apple Blossoms in rural West Virginia.  Threats from someone determined to ruin her life and the suspicious romantic advances from her new chef force Starli to search her heart and finally turn to God for real healing.

Sir Joel Peterman-Blair, top notch chef from England, is roped by his uncle, into filling in as head Chef at Apple Blossoms.  Joel, with his sanguine-personality, has always laughed and flirted his way through life. But now, confronted with and attracted to the most beautiful woman he’s ever met, Joel has to prove his sincerity and depth of character to his icy-cold employer.  Can his love for God and for this woman reach out far enough to rescue her from her own mistrust and bitterness? Will he learn that life is not all play? 

And can they both work together to find the source of threats 
that seem to be coming from Starli’s past? 



READ the FIRST CHAPTER
Chapter One
Starli Cameron slashed off the last name on her list, the last possible candidate.

It'd been a long day, she loved her work, so in saying that, was saying the impossible—for her.

She had to admit, she was picky when it came to her beloved restaurant, Apple Blossoms. Anything and anyone to do with it came with high scrutiny from her. She wanted the best and only that for her business.

That last chef applicant, with his incessant sniffing, drove her crazy. And what about the pompous one who'd strutted into her office with his fake Italian accent itemizing his demands. She'd not had a chance to say a word. Good thing too. His dismissal had been fast—although she hoped, politely done.

She ripped the paper from the tablet, crumpled it and tossed her pencil to the tabletop just as the loud pounding on the door began.

Hurrying to the front door, hoping it would be one of her best friends—Toni or Caroline, so she could let off some steam—she peeked through the peephole.

An eye glared in at her, and she jumped back, heart beating like a woodpecker determined to get at the insects behind the tree bark.

Roland Stratton.

He can't see me. 

“Starlie-e-e. Open up before I beat down this door.” He accompanied his words with a couple more loud bangs from his big hands.

God, please, not again. Starli gripped the door casing. “What do you want?”

“Think you’ve got it made, don’t you? While Ryan is decaying in the ground, his devoted wife is playing the high-rolling, successful businesswoman to the tilt. You couldn’t even give him a son, could you?”

Dear Lord, please help me. A knife twisted in her heart. “No. That’s not--”

“Don't bother to deny it.” The voice roared, anger and threat resounding through it. He kicked at an empty flower pot, sending it down her steps to crash at the bottom in a hundred pieces.

“I have to make a living.” Desperation surged through her. She hated the whine in her voice.

“What about the five hundred grand he left you? Remember that measly amount? Did you squander it? Hoard it?”

Starli’s insides froze a little more. Was Roland Stratton, Ryan’s twin brother, after the money? Too late. It’d all gone toward opening this restaurant.

She recognized the feelings raging through her. Anger, hurt, dismay, defeat. But she didn’t want to address them. Didn’t even want to acknowledge them. She peeked through the hole again.

Her husband's brother staggered over to one of the porch stands and stared down at it. Then drawing his leg back, he gave it a vicious kick and sent it sailing across the porch.

“I went back to school and started this restaurant. That took money—”

“You’re as stupid as Ryan always said.” A coarse laugh grated through the receiver. “Too stupid to live. But you did, didn’t you, Starlie-e-e? Ryan died, but you lived.”

Starli pressed her head against the door. When he moved away soon after Ryan's accident, she'd thought she was done with the Strattons, that she'd at last find some peace.

What could she say to pacify him? Anything? Nothing?

“Look down at that ugly finger of yours, Starlie-e-e.”

Starli’s gaze dropped to her left pinkie. The crooked one. The reminder. Fear thudded in her chest.

“I think you need another reminder.” His coarse, drunken laugh drowned out the bang, bang, bang his fists repeatedly applied to the wooden door.

“No.” The single, whispered word exploded from her throat.

The sudden silence played in her ears like a dreaded dirge.

 He was gone. For now.

Grab this book here:
Amazon
Amazon Author Page
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *


~~ Book Three ~~


Undiscovered Treasures

COMING 2017

2 comments:

Ann Ellison said...

You have me hooked. I will be looking forward to reading the book.

Ann Ellison said...

You have me hooked. I will be looking forward to reading the book.