SHAREE: Do you base your characters on real people?
JACKIE: I have pictures of what my characters look like, but the character is purely fiction.
SHAREE: What are three things about you that would surprise your readers?
JACKIE: First, I watched the NBA finals this year and cheered for both teams. I mostly watch college basketball, and I’d watched many of the players in their younger days. Second, when I watch sports on TV, I often stand up and cheer when it gets close and exciting. Third, I love the fact that both of my sons grew up to love reading. My oldest takes his children to the library often. My youngest son just had a baby, so his day will come.
SHAREE: What’s the most challenging part of being an author?
JACKIE: Doubts and distractions.
Friends, Jackie has given us a sneak peek excerpt! Join me now for Bag of Bones:
FOR YEARS I’D been Andi Grace Scott, lover of Cokes, coffee, and chocolate. Fast food was my favorite kind of supper. I knew how to prepare simple meals like hot dogs or grilled cheese sandwiches. I could even toss a salad. But fast food had kept me alive.
Now? My feet pounded on the beach near the water where the sand was firm. Perspiration beaded my hairline despite the briskness. I had become a runner. Me. A runner.
How had Marc Williams, the oh-so-handsome attorney, persuaded me to take up running? The man had a way of convincing me to make healthy choices, so I shouldn’t complain. This was a better cardio workout than walking dogs and solving murders—not that I planned to investigate any more murders. From now on my attention would be firmly focused on the beauty around me.
Orange, purple, and gray streaks stretched across the horizon. Puddles mirrored the white clouds floating in the morning sky. A recreational boat zoomed by. If they’d been out fishing all night, they would’ve needed to bundle up. The wind had a cool bite on this first Monday morning in March.
I breathed in through my nose and out my mouth and tried to ignore the stitch in my side. The muscles in my calves tightened. Maybe ignoring the pain would keep the leg cramps at bay.
If I complained, Marc would argue I should’ve drunk more water and stretched longer. As an attorney, the man knew how to state his case. He’d be right, of course. My pre-run time had been spent savoring my first cup of coffee. I’d never give up my morning cup of java.
Sand stuck to my damp legs, but I kept running.
Marc slowed his pace to match mine, and his dog Chubb ran at his side. “You’re doing great, Andi Grace.”
“How’d you talk me into running so early?” I tried for annoyed, but the morning’s beauty made it impossible to be grumpy. The company wasn’t bad either.
“It’s good for our metabolisms.” Marc grinned.
I gulped for air but didn’t stop because I didn’t want to disappoint Marc. My German shepherd, Sunny, ran at my side with her ears perked up like little radars. Her head turned from side to side, watching for danger or unexpected surprises like a wandering ghost crab or a cannonball jellyfish. “What’s your day look like?”
“I’ve got a contract dispute this morning and two new clients this afternoon. How about you?” His words flowed with ease, and he didn’t appear a bit winded.
“Can’t talk.” Pain stabbed below my ribs, and I slowed while clutching my side.
“Okay, I’ll talk. Since your old boyfriend, Danny, decided to run for state representative, he’s been a doozy to deal with.” Marc’s fists clenched at chest level instead of their normal relaxed position and gentle swing. “Do you suppose he heard we started dating and is gunning for me for personal reasons?”
“Danny Nichols doesn’t care one bit about me.” I huffed.
Interesting to see Marc frustrated by Danny.
“He and his family decided to drop their fight with you over Peter’s will. It’s possible he cares more than you suspect.”
A solid black cat sitting on a beach house’s wooden walkway scratched behind his ear. I tensed, expecting chaos, but the dogs were focused on the water and sand and never noticed the feline.
Chubb chased the water as it came onto land and rolled back to sea.
The golden retriever was almost a year old. He was lots of fun and smart as a tack, but he hadn’t matured. Chubb made me laugh, while Sunny made me feel loved and protected. My German shepherd had appeared at my house over twelve years earlier and had never left me. Her maturity and loyalty were stellar. I loved both dogs. In fact, I’d never met a dog I didn’t like.
Sunny barked and sprinted to the large rock barrier ahead of us. So much for maturity. I pointed. “Marc, did you see her run to the beach groin? She never runs off without permission.”
“Yeah, she’s supposed to exert a positive influence on Chubb.” He laughed.
“I know.” Uneasiness settled over my shoulders. The air grew still. Another odd thing for a March morning on the coast of South Carolina.
“Maybe she’s reliving her youth. Hanging out with Chubb might not be a good thing for her. He often leaves me on a whim.”
I shifted into a jog until I reached the rigid rock structure a few hundred yards away. The rocks had been engineered to trap sand and prevent beach erosion. But instead of sand, the structure had prevented something larger from drifting away.
Sunny stood over a woman’s body. Layers of clothes. All wet. No movement. My feet halted their movement. My lungs froze. No. This couldn’t be happening again, but the coloring and texture of the woman’s skin warned me she wasn’t alive. “It’s the cat lady.” My words came out in a whisper, my mouth suddenly dry.
“Aw, man.” Marc yanked off his ball cap and ran a hand through his thick blond hair. “Tabby Malkin was one of my first clients at the law firm. I know people around here think she’s strange, but she’s—she was—a real sweetheart. Even though I was a stranger to her, she trusted me to handle her affairs.” Marc removed his phone from the pocket of his mid-thigh running shorts. “I’ll call the sheriff.”
Sunny paced then laid down beside Tabby on the beach.
I stooped to check for the woman’s pulse, in case she was alive, then I stopped. Sightless eyes looked skyward, unable to distinguish a white seagull from a brown pelican. What was the last thing she’d seen?
One of her beloved cats? Tears welled in my eyes. Locals had nicknamed Tabby the cat lady because she walked the beaches and island streets with two bowls, a jug of milk, and cat kibble. If she spied a feral cat, she fed it.
The woman hadn’t lived in the area for long, but in a small town, it didn’t take long to get noticed. I’d never taken time to ask if Tabby was her real name or if she’d started calling herself Tabby because she loved cats.
Although maybe her love of cats came because she’d been named Tabby.
There’d be no more opportunities to ask her now. A tear slipped down my face, and I shouldered it away.
My stomach churned at the sight of the poor woman. Was her death a tragic accident or something sinister? I gazed at a fluffy white cloud on the horizon then back to Tabby. I didn’t believe her death was an accident.
Tabby’s body was sandy and wet but not bloated, making me think she’d been killed on the beach. Moisture in the air might have contributed to some of the wetness, but more likely the tide had washed over her body. Being this far up on the beach had probably prevented the body from washing out to sea.
We stood near the meandering high tide line, where little bits of driftwood, drying seaweed, and scattered shells marked how high the ocean had come on land.
I wrapped my arms around my stomach. There were no obvious gunshot wounds, at least not on the front of her body. What had happened to Tabby? Had she tripped and hit her head on the boulders making up the beach’s protective structure?
She wore baggy black sweatpants, a gray T-shirt, and a long-sleeved denim button-up. The shirt was torn at the shoulder. A black high-top Converse sneaker covered one foot, but the other foot was bare.
Chubb barked and jumped over the short end of the rock groin near the sand dune. His long legs aided his quick departure.
Marc cupped his hands around his mouth. “Chubb! Come back.”
I sighed. “You better go after him. I’ll stay with Tabby.”
“Sure you don’t mind?”
“Go.” It was the only word I could squeeze out.
Marc ran after his dog while holding the phone to his ear.
The stitch in my side eased, but the dead woman hurt my soul. We had something in common. Both of us loved animals. She focused on cats, providing food and milk to the felines on the island while allowing them to be free. Canines claimed my attention. If I found a dog, I always matched him with an owner. Different animals, different methods, but we both loved the abandoned animals around Heyward Beach. My throat grew tight.
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Jackie Layton has always lived in the southeast United States. Kentucky, Georgia, and now South Carolina. She loves living in the low country and often can’t believe how blessed she is. Despite cracked ribs and a trip to the emergency room after getting a hook in her foot while body surfacing, she’s always had fun with her kids playing in the waves. When she’s not writing, Jackie enjoys long walks, bike rides, golf cart rides, reading on the beach, and collecting shells. Jackie Layton is the author of Low Country Dog Walker Mystery series. Bite the Dust and Dog-Gone Dead are the first two books. Bag of Bones comes out as e-book on October 30. Jackie always enjoys hearing from readers.