Peaches and Scream (A Georgia Peach Mystery)

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9780425278383: Peaches and Scream (A Georgia Peach Mystery)

In the first Georgia Peach Mystery, when murder threatens her family’s orchard, Nola Harper is ready to pick out the killer and preserve the farm’s reputation...

To help run the family peach farm during her parents’ absence, Nola Harper returns to her childhood home of Cays Mill, Georgia, and soon discovers that things back at the farm aren’t exactly peachy. A poor harvest and rising costs are threatening to ruin the Harpers’ livelihood, and small-town gossip is spreading like blight thanks to Nola’s juicy reputation as a wild teenager way back when. But Nola really finds herself in the pits when she stumbles upon a local businessman murdered among the peach trees.

With suspicions and family tensions heating up faster than a cobbler in the oven, this sweet Georgia peach will have to prune through a list of murder suspects—before she too becomes ripe for the killer’s picking...

INCLUDES RECIPES

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About the Author:

Susan Furlong has lived throughout the United States, including the South, but is now happily settled in the Midwest on a small hobby farm with her husband and four children. Writing about peaches comes naturally to her as she grows several varieties of her own.  Susan also writes the Novel Idea Mysteries under the pen name Lucy Arlington.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Georgia Belle Fact #027: In the South, we greet one another with bits of juicy gossip, not some ol’ boring Yankee-like salutation.

I was idling on the corner of Blossom Street and Orchard, when the words came sailing through my open car window. “My word! Is that Nola Mae Harper I see?”

I snapped my head and squinted to the sidewalk where I spied the Crawford sisters sauntering along. I hadn’t heard my full name, let alone that drawl I’d taken for granted in childhood, for a long time. I shot them a quick smile and waggled my fingers before moving down the road. As I continued, I noticed more than just a few of the locals rubbernecked as I passed, the sight of me eliciting curious stares and sudden whispers. I could imagine the return of the Harper family black sheep was going to crank the village’s local rumor mill into full gear. Gee, it was good to be back.

They may have dubbed Georgia as the “Peach State,” but what they weren’t saying was my hometown of Cays Mill was the pit. I should know; I was born and raised in this two-stoplight town and had spent most of my adult life trying to shake its loamy soil from my boots. That’s why I surprised myself when home was the first place I thought of when my work situation took a turn for the worse. Then I really surprised myself when I agreed to spend time at home watching over the family’s one hundred–plus acres of peach farm while Mama and Daddy took their dream trip. But I guess I did owe them. Or so I’d been told—or had it implied in Mama’s southern sweet talk—often enough.

Truth be known, they had been the world’s best parents; and I, well . . . I hadn’t always been the best daughter. At least that was what my older sister, Ida Jean, kept telling me. Of course, maybe she had a point. She’d stuck around Cays Mill, married the banker’s son and was busy adding little twigs to the Harper family tree, a set of twins so far and another baby on the way. I, on the other hand, headed north of the Piedmont the first chance I got, took a job with a humanitarian organization and had been traipsing from one country to another for the last fifteen years or so, seeing the world or, perhaps more accurately, escaping from my own world. Heaven knows, if I hadn’t left Cays Mill when I did, hard telling what type of shame I’d have brought to the Harper family name.

Anyhow, it’d been almost three years since I was home last and it looked like not much had changed in town. The city building, still the most formidable structure in the area, occupied most of the town green and acted as an unsurpassable anchor for Cays Mill’s business section. Not that there were many businesses around these days. Like many small towns, the recession had hit our village hard. As I drove about the square, I saw more than a few vacant buildings, their empty windows only partially obscured under the bright awnings that served to protect the storefronts from the scorching Georgia heat. However, I was happy to see Red’s Diner was still going strong. A line was formed outside the door, probably the after-church crowd, heading in for Red’s famous breakfast hash, served with grits and a side of toast with—what else?—peach preserves.

At the next stoplight I stole a quick glance in the rearview mirror and swiped a short piece of cropped hair from my forehead, before gripping the wheel and turning off the square. I traveled southeast, winding my way a mile or so out of town, heading for the family farm.

If I had to describe Georgia, I’d say it was like a handmade quilt, tossed out all lumpy-like over the bed. The northern part of the state would be the biggest bumps, where the Appalachian hills offered a beautiful blue hue and the winding rivers ran through like errant stitching. Then came the Piedmont, with big cities like Atlanta and Columbus acting as the nubby knots holding the fabric and the batting in place. Next, the Fall Line, where the rivers made a showy descent like colorful fabric bargellos, cascading over rocks and flowing to the smooth coastal planes where scenic towns like Savannah provided a decorative binding, sealing the quilt’s overall beauty. My family’s little block of the fabric was located on the Fall Line, where the northern rivers dumped their sandy deposits, making soil conditions just right for growing peaches, which my family had done for as many generations as I could count.

Heading down the road out of town plunged me into the orchard area, where the sullenness of the weathered town stood in sharp contrast to the peach trees, standing row on row, like sturdy soldiers, their green uniforms shining in the Georgia sun, holding guard over this community. Even the late-August sun couldn’t extinguish the bristling green of the leaves, whispering their welcome to me in the light breeze.

Even though I’d all but had my fill of peaches during my youth, I had to admit my heart kicked up a beat in anticipation as I neared home. It’d been so long since I’d been back, and I was craving a little time at home with my family. So much so that by the time I passed under the gate that marked the entrance to Harper Peach Farm, I was practically giddy with excitement. Or sick with nerves; I wasn’t sure which. I couldn’t believe I’d agreed to take over the family farm for three whole weeks. Even though the last of the peaches had been picked, packed and transported out, taking care of the farm was a huge responsibility. Still, it was going to be good to be home for a while. At least until I figured out what to do about my job. I’d been beside myself ever since my boss told me they were downsizing and I’d been allocated to a desk job in Atlanta. A desk job! After all these years of fieldwork, they expected me to be satisfied twiddling my thumbs behind a desk. Not this girl. No way.

“Nola Mae Harper!” I heard my daddy yell from the deep porch of our two-story farmhouse. Seconds later, the slamming of the screen storm door yielded a stream of ebullient Harpers.

“Whoa! One at a time.” I laughed, embracing them warmly until I got to my sister, Ida Jean. Her hug felt stiff compared to the others. “Hello, Ida. You’re looking good.” I patted her expanding belly before turning to the oldest Harper child, my big brother, Raymond Junior—Ray to me, Bud to my parents and Raymond Harper II to his colleagues at the law firm. “I’ve missed you, Ray!” I buried my head in his chest, coming up for air to greet my sister’s twin girls, who danced about our legs. In true southern fashion, they were properly named Savannah and Charlotte. Although I could never tell which was which. In the three years since I’d seen them, with only occasional photos for reference, I was astounded by how big they’d grown.

“Your hair sure is short,” one of them said, gripping my legs, her eyes wide. I ran a hand through my dark cropped hair and chuckled. Both the girls were towheads—a combination of my brother-in-law’s blond hair and my sister’s light blue eyes. Typical little belles, they sported long curls that suited their sleeveless butter yellow sundresses and white sandals. By contrast, my khaki-colored utility shorts and black tank top, walking boots and knee-high socks—which all served me well in jungle situations—seemed apparently exotic to my nieces as their sparkling eyes took it all in. They possessed equal amounts of devilish energy that would be expected from any six-year-old, the problem being that with twins, the trouble was always times two.

Managing to break away, I headed straight for my parents, embracing Mama first. “Good to have you home, honey,” she said against my shoulder. I swear, she’d shrunk another half inch. Although the whole county knew better than to let my mother’s petite stature fool them. Della Wilkes Harper may be tiny, but she was a force to reckon with.

On the other hand, there was nothing small about my father. Daddy always loomed larger than life. Right then, he was hanging back, watching us with a grin spread wide over his face. I turned to him and held out my arms. He skipped forward, scooping me off my feet into a giant bear hug. “I can’t believe you’re finally home, darlin’. Now the party can get started!”

I peered over the top of his wide shoulders, ignoring the look of disgust on Ida’s face, and let my eyes roam the orchard line, where a white tent had been set up to accommodate at least two hundred guests. In my quick glance at the tent, it almost appeared as if miniature peach trees held up each corner, but before I could figure it out, Daddy had released me from his hug for a close-up look at my tanned face and short hair. With a tousle of my hair he gave a laugh, loving me in his own way, always accepting of me, no matter what. I felt tears start to well and knew coming home had been the right choice.

Besides, this trip was extra special. My parents were celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary and this “dream trip” of theirs was really a second honeymoon, or first honeymoon, since they never got to go on a trip after their wedding. Anyway, this evening’s party was sure to be a wingding. The trip had actually been a prize Mama had won for her peach chutney recipe in the National Condiments Competition, with the timing for the cruise set by the competition. Because no way would they have left at this time of year otherwise—the Peach Harvest Festival was only a couple weeks away. Since our parents had never, ever missed a festival, Ida had decided to give their anniversary celebration a peach festival flair, so they were technically not missing this year’s festivities either. I was anxious to see what she’d come up with. Knowing Ida, it’d be perfect.

Speaking of whom, as soon as Daddy swung me around to head for the porch, Ida started in. “It’s just like you to show up for the fun. Never mind all the work it took to get ready for this party.”

Aw . . . so that was it. “Sorry, Ida. I got tied up in traffic outside Atlanta. But I’ll do double the work cleaning up after the party. I promise.”

She harrumphed and stormed ahead, heading straight for the house. Mama waved away the bad air left in her wake. “Don’t pay any attention to her. She’s just exhausted. Hollis has been working long hours and the kids are wearing her out.” My mother had been making excuses for Ida’s behavior since we were children. I knew, on the other hand, that my behavior was always open for discussion. As if to prove that point, she looped her arm in mine and said, “Come sit awhile. I’ve made some tea; we’ll get caught up on all your latest adventures.” Which translated to: Come in and sit with me so I can pick apart your life and remind you that you should be settled down, married and having children by now.

I sent a pleading look Daddy’s way, hoping he’d rescue me from the pending lecture. Instead, he patted my back and shot me a half-apologetic look. “Go on ahead. Bud and I have a few details to tend to. We’ll have time to get caught up tonight.”

“Yes, come on, dear,” Mama insisted. “And don’t worry about your bags. Your brother will put them in your room. Won’t you, Bud?” She continued walking, not waiting for a response from Ray. Mama’s questions were never really questions, but orders laid out with the type of charm that only a true Southern lady could pull off. “We’ve kept your room the same,” she continued. “Even though you hardly ever come home anymore. Oh, and Hattie called. She’s so excited you’re back. Said she might stop by early to visit before the party.”

The thought of seeing Hattie again thrilled me. Her family used to live just down the road and she’d been my best friend all through school. There was a time when she, Cade—her older brother—and I were inseparable. A smile tugged at my lips as I remembered the trouble we’d get into and how much fun we had annoying Ida and her friends. Of course, thinking back to the scowl Ida had greeted me with, I figured I still annoyed her.

I opened the screen door for Mama and followed her in. “Are you excited for the party tonight, Mama?” I asked, glancing around with a happy feeling. Our house was exactly the same as when I left, right down to a lingering smell of fried chicken mixed with the faint scent of Daddy’s cigars. Today, there was also a little fruity smell mixed in. Ida must’ve been cooking up something peachy in the kitchen.

Mama nodded, motioning for me to sit at the dining room table as she headed for the kitchen. “Yes, I can hardly wait,” she said over her shoulder. After a few seconds, she came back through the swinging kitchen door with a couple glasses of sweet tea. “Your sister has really put herself out getting everything ready.” She took a sip of tea and swiped a napkin under her sweating glass before placing it back on the table. “I hope she’s not working too hard, with the baby so close and all.”

I looked away, feeling guiltier than ever for not coming home earlier and helping more with the party. I’d begged off on coming home a week earlier, claiming, correctly, that I had things to tie up at the Helping Hands International headquarters before I could leave. What I had to tie up was every string I could find to keep me out of a desk job—but to no avail in the end anyway. In retrospect it might have been more pleasant blowing up balloons with Ida. “I’m sure she’s happy to do it. Fifty years, Mama.” I patted her hand. “That’s something to celebrate.”

“Yes, it is!” she said, although I noticed her smile didn’t seem to reach her eyes.

“Are you worried about the farm, because I’m sure I can handle—”

“Oh heavens no! I know you’ll take good care of things around here.”

I studied her for a moment. Something was off. “Are you sad to miss the harvest festival? I know it means so much to you.” She and Daddy first met at the peach festival, and they’d never missed a single one in the fifty years they’d been married.

She tilted her head back and chuckled. My mama had a deep, raspy laugh that seemed too big for her tiny frame, but I never tired of hearing it. “How could I be sad when your sister has practically re-created the whole festival for tonight?” She leaned forward, eyes twinkling. “Oh, Nola. Wait till you see what’s she’s come up with. Why, the decorations, the flowers, the food . . . It’s all just divine.”

Boy, I owed my sister big-time. “I’m so glad, Mama. And I can’t wait to see Hattie. When did she get back?”

“A few months ago when her father took ill. He’s in the convalescent home east of town. Alzheimer’s, I think. That family’s had its share of trouble—that’s for sure.”

I dipped my eyes, running my hand over the marred top of our family table. Poor Hattie. I never understood how some people had to bear so much sadness while others seemed to breeze through life without a care. Maybe that was why I’d loved my job so much. It gave me a chance to try to right the off-balanced nature of life. Something I knew wasn’t going to be possible from behind a desk.

“You know, she’s started a dress shop down on the square,” Mama added, bringing relief to the downturn in the conversation.

My mood lightened. “A dress shop! Hattie?” Although I shouldn’t have been surprised. Hattie was always the epitome of southern fashion. “Ho...

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Descrizione libro Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2015. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the first Georgia Peach Mystery, when murder threatens her family s orchard, Nola Harper is ready to pick out the killer and preserve the farm s reputation. To help run the family peach farm during her parents absence, Nola Harper returns to her childhood home of Cays Mill, Georgia, and soon discovers that things back at the farm aren t exactly peachy. A poor harvest and rising costs are threatening to ruin the Harpers livelihood, and small-town gossip is spreading like blight thanks to Nola s juicy reputation as a wild teenager way back when. But Nola really finds herself in the pits when she stumbles upon a local businessman murdered among the peach trees. With suspicions and family tensions heating up faster than a cobbler in the oven, this sweet Georgia peach will have to prune through a list of murder suspects--before she too becomes ripe for the killer s picking. INCLUDES RECIPES. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780425278383

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Descrizione libro Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. In the first Georgia Peach Mystery, when murder threatens her family s orchard, Nola Harper is ready to pick out the killer and preserve the farm s reputation. To help run the family peach farm during her parents absence, Nola Harper returns to her childhood home of Cays Mill, Georgia, and soon discovers that things back at the farm aren t exactly peachy. A poor harvest and rising costs are threatening to ruin the Harpers livelihood, and small-town gossip is spreading like blight thanks to Nola s juicy reputation as a wild teenager way back when. But Nola really finds herself in the pits when she stumbles upon a local businessman murdered among the peach trees. With suspicions and family tensions heating up faster than a cobbler in the oven, this sweet Georgia peach will have to prune through a list of murder suspects--before she too becomes ripe for the killer s picking. INCLUDES RECIPES. Codice libro della libreria BTE9780425278383

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Descrizione libro Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2016. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In the first Georgia Peach Mystery, when murder threatens her family s orchard, Nola Harper is ready to pick out the killer and preserve the farm s reputation. To help run the family peach farm during her parents absence, Nola Harper returns to her childhood home of Cays Mill, Georgia, and soon discovers that things back at the farm aren t exactly peachy. A poor harvest and rising costs are threatening to ruin the Harpers livelihood, and small-town gossip is spreading like blight thanks to Nola s juicy reputation as a wild teenager way back when. But Nola really finds herself in the pits when she stumbles upon a local businessman murdered among the peach trees. With suspicions and family tensions heating up faster than a cobbler in the oven, this sweet Georgia peach will have to prune through a list of murder suspects--before she too becomes ripe for the killer s picking. INCLUDES RECIPES. Codice libro della libreria AAS9780425278383

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