Bite the Dust

Bite the Dust

Jackie Layton

February 2020
ISBN: 978-1-61194-984-1

Low Country Dog Walker Mystery Series, Book 1

Our PriceUS$15.95
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Secrets can be deadly.

One steamy South Carolina morning, Low Country dog walker Andi Grace Scott discovers a client’s dead body. Police quickly decide she’s the prime suspect. Horrified, she knows she’ll have to turn detective if she’s going to convince them they’re barking up the wrong tree.

Proving her innocence could be a tall order. The local police never solved the hit-and-run that killed her parents; Andi Grace isn’t sure they’ll solve this crime either…not when they have a convenient suspect—one caught with the possible murder weapon in her hand. She’ll have to follow every clue and call in every favor, even if that puts her in danger.

If you love strong heroines, coastal small-town life, and dogs, you’ll love Bite the Dust.

Author Bio: Former Kentucky pharmacist JACKIE LAYTON loves her new life in the Low Country. Walks on the beach and collecting shells are a few of her hobbies when she’s not writing.

Bite the Dust is the first book in Jackie’s new Low Country Dog Walker Mystery series. Jackie also enjoys hearing from readers. Be sure to follow her on Facebook.



"Completely charming--and exactly what a cozy mystery should be. Amateur sleuth (and dog whisperer) Andi Grace Scott is wonderfully endearing, and her devotion to her pooches--and to justice--will have you rooting for her from the absolutely irresistible page one. Bow WOW--What a terrific debut!" -Hank Phillippi Ryan, Nationally best-selling and award-winning author of The Murder List

"Andi Grace is adorable, resilient, and has a doggedly curious need to solve a murder. A pleasure to read." –C. Hope Clark, award winning author of Edisto Tidings


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Chapter One

"WHAT’D YOU DO?” A deep tenor questioned me.

I stood over a dead body. Peter Roth’s body, to be exact. "I didn’t do anything.” The stranger glared at me. His expression implied I was to blame for Peter’s death. Of all the nerve. I was Peter’s friend.

Peter’s golden retriever puppy, Chubb, howled where he stood on the imported Persian rug between the dead body and me. Peter had been so excited the day the rug arrived and he often walked around it instead of on it to preserve the beauty. Now he lay dead on the carpet he treasured in the grand living room of his plantation home.

The stranger’s eyes widened. "Well?” Then he crossed his arms over his sweaty sky-blue T-shirt, obscuring the words I like my boat and maybe three people.

My throat tightened, but I had to defend myself against his accu­sation. "I just got here. To walk the dog. I’m the dog walker.” I point­ed at Chubb, as if he could testify to my innocence.

"Why are you holding a paperweight? From here it looks like you might have knocked Peter out with that thing.”

"No.” I backed away from the body, shaking my head. "I didn’t hit him.”

The man pulled a cell phone out of the pocket of his athletic shorts. Not the super tiny shorts a lot of runners wore. Long enough to be decent. Short enough for me to notice his long, tanned, muscular legs.

He thumbed the phone’s buttons. "Did you call the police?” Despite the harshness of the man’s voice, his pale face proved he struggled with Peter’s death.

"Not yet. I heard your footsteps and grabbed the paperweight off the coffee table to protect myself. Why are you here? How do I know you’re not the killer?” I backed up a few more paces. In that attire, the guy had to be a runner. I probably couldn’t outrun him. Maybe I could outwit him.

"We’ll let the police sort it out. Maybe you’ll get a softie who’ll believe you.”

"How can you accuse me? Peter is my friend.” My eyes drifted down to the still body, and I held in a sob. Through the years I’d got­ten used to stuffing down my emotions. Finding Peter’s body chal­lenged my ability to hold it together. I perspired, my legs shook, and my stomach churned. "Was my friend.”

"You want me to believe you showed up to walk Chubb and found Peter lying on the floor?”

"Yes. It’s the truth. I’d never hurt Peter.” In one hand, I held an ace of hearts playing card I’d found on the kitchen floor moments before I’d entered the living room. The heavy glass paperweight weighed down the other hand. A colorful Baccarat to be specific. Peter had always been specific when I admired an antique he had displayed in his South Carolina plantation home. He admired beautiful things, and he was a collector. Paperweights were just one of the things he enjoyed. "I know this looks bad. Let me explain.”

The man’s eyes narrowed, his finger poised inches from his cell phone screen. "You’ve got sixty seconds before I call the police. What you say will affect what I tell them.”

I slipped the slick playing card into the back pocket of my shorts. Telling the truth wouldn’t take long. "Peter called me last night to say he had an early meeting in Atlanta this morning. Thursdays he usually works from home but something came up. He asked me to come check on Chubb a couple times today. When I got here, Chubb was barking nonstop. I entered the front door and walked through the foyer and breakfast room straight back to the kitchen. I never entered this room. Chubb’s a puppy, and I thought maybe he needed to go out in a hurry. I opened the door to his crate, and he ran in here. All I’ve done is feel Peter’s body for a pulse. His wrist and his neck. There’s not one. His body is cold and clammy.” The way I rattled on probably made me look guilty. I shivered. Talking too much when nervous was one of my bad habits. "Why are you here?”

His expression tight, he propped his hands on his hips. "I heard a scream while on my morning run along the river. When I got here, the front door was wide open. I came inside and found you standing over Peter with a weapon.”

"I don’t remember leaving the door open, and I’m not holding a weapon.” I looked down at the paperweight in my hand. If this man thought I killed Peter, the sheriff might jump to the same conclusion. Then another thought occurred to me. "Wait, who are you?”

"A neighbor. My land borders Peter’s property line to the north. We’ve got to report this.” He dialed.

I knelt beside Chubb and rubbed his back. Poor thing.

"This is Marc Williams.”

I jerked at the sound of his voice, but mystery man’s name was no longer a secret. Marc Williams stood a few inches over six feet, judging by the way I tipped my head to see him. I was five foot eight and didn’t strain to look up at many people.

Marc paced around the room, never getting too close to the body. "I need to report a death. Possible murder. At Peter Roth’s home on River Road.”

My legs refused to hold me any longer. I shuffled away and col­lapsed onto the jacquard wingback chair. Louis XVI in a "muted cela­don,” according to Peter. Pain pounded through my head. Never again would Peter share his love of antiques with me. I used to stifle yawns at his lengthy descriptions, but now.... I’d give anything to have those conversations back. I’d lost too many loved ones in my life.

I’d spent twelve years raising my siblings. When I was eighteen, my parents were killed by a hit-and-run driver in a white sports car. Mom and I had been making plans for my dorm room the week of the accident. Afterward, it was only the three of us kids. No grandparents. Nobody to jump in and offer assistance. The first time I heard the words Social Services, I’d known what I had to do. There really wasn’t another choice. I shelved my plans to attend the University of Georgia and remained in Heyward Beach, South Carolina. Then I met Peter. He’d been new to the area at the time. For some inexplicable reason, he’d looked out for me, acted as my mentor and life coach. He never flat-out gave me money, but he’d advised me on finances and en­couraged me. Peter had shown extraordinary kindness to a lost young woman when there’d been no reason for him to reach out.

Marc paced from the doorway to the window overlooking the vast front yard. "I’d say we need an ambulance. No, the coroner. And the sheriff.” The man spoke to the emergency dispatcher with authority as if used to giving orders and expecting them to be obeyed.

I released the paperweight, and it dropped onto the soft chair. I leaned forward and held out a dog treat to the puppy. A good dog walker always carried some kind of treats, and I was good. "Come here, Chubb.”

The puppy raised his head and looked at me. The pain in his brown eyes about broke my heart.

"It’s okay, boy. You’re safe.”

Chubb’s ears flopped back before he stood and plodded toward me. His nails clicked on the old pine floor until he stopped and sniffed my hand before biting into the dog bone.

"Good, boy.” I rubbed his dark golden sides as he munched on the treat appropriate for forty-pound puppies. "I know how you feel. It’s hard to believe somebody would hurt Peter.” The puppy whined, and I slid down to the floor so I could wrap my arms around him.

Marc walked our way. "Maybe we should move to the kitchen. Less chance of contaminating the crime scene in there.”

I gasped. This was Peter’s living room. Not a crime scene. How­ever, my friend’s dead body made Marc Williams’s words true. This was a crime scene. Peter was the murder victim, and it looked like I might be the number one suspect.

My legs barely held me as I stumbled through the foyer and break­fast room on my way to the kitchen. I sat on the first barstool I came to. Chubb plodded to his crate and collapsed onto the soft blankets with a heavy sigh.

Marc opened the refrigerator door and pulled out a can of Coke. He dampened a paper towel and wiped off the top before placing the can in front of me. "You look pale. Have you eaten today?”

"Yeah. I ate a nut bar when I first woke up.” I popped the top and drank deeply. The bubbles tickled my throat, and my nose burned at the familiar taste. Cokes and coffee were my two big weaknesses. "It’s probably too late to worry, but do you think the cops will mind I’m drinking one of Peter’s drinks?”

"I’m sure they’d prefer it over you passing out. You looked like you were about to faint.” Marc took another paper towel and ran it over his face.

I finished the drink and checked on Chubb’s water and food sup­ply. Both bowls were empty, so I went about the simple task of filling them.

The golden retriever lay in the crate, stretched out with his head resting on his big paws.

I paused beside him. "Poor boy. Do you know who hurt Peter?”

The dog’s eyes rolled up, and I scratched him behind the ears.

Marc Williams cleared his throat. "Peter isn’t hurt. He’s dead.”

How could the man be so blunt? I settled on the floor and reached for Chubb. The energetic puppy had lost his spunk. A stranger might not realize Chubb was five months old because he was so large. I managed to wrap him in my arms and rocked sideways in hopes it’d soothe the golden retriever. I also needed soothing, but I’d worry about myself later.

"In case you missed it, I’m Marc Williams. And you are?”

I willed back the tears threatening to erupt from my eyes. "I’m Andi Grace Scott. I was Peter’s dog walker and pet sitter for the last twelve years. He was my friend.”

"Twelve years?” Marc’s eyes narrowed. "That dog’s just a puppy.”

"I took care of Lincoln for years, but he died back in the winter. Peter adopted Chubb in February, and they were a good fit for each other.” Did the man think I was lying? If he didn’t believe me about watching the dogs, he probably didn’t believe I was innocent of Peter’s death. "How well did you know Peter?”

He huffed, strode to the refrigerator again, and opened it. Soon I was holding another cold can of Coke. Marc twisted off the cap of a water bottle and chugged it dry. "Peter and I were neighbors and worked together when a land developer wanted to buy our land to build a hotel and casino. Our properties connect, and we could’ve made a nice profit, but we weren’t interested.”

The playing card singed me through the pocket of my denim shorts and I rubbed my thigh. Why had I picked it up? It might be important. Where were the other fifty-one cards? Fifty-three if you counted the jokers. I shrugged off the chill across my neck and refocused on Marc. His calm tone made me want to trust him. "Are you a cop?”




In spite of his denials, something about the man screamed authority. "Are you associated with the law in some way? An attorney? A judge?”

He yanked off his hat and ran a hand through his wavy blond hair. It was a couple of shades darker than mine but probably thicker. "Used to be an attorney.”

"Aha. So is anything I tell you protected?”

"That only goes for clients. What do you want to tell me?” He tugged his hat back on.

I studied Marc’s eyes. Gray, if anything. My gaze switched to coast over his strong chest. He’d quit perspiring, but there was still a damp ring on his T-shirt. The brim of his ball cap had a perfect curve. I should know after all the times I’d watched my brother, Nate, work a curve into the bill of his hats. "I want to hire you.”


"What if the sheriff thinks I killed Peter? You thought I did. Maybe I need a lawyer.” I blinked, trying to clear my vision from the threatening darkness. Last thing I needed to do was faint.

"I don’t officially practice law anymore.”

"Kinda young to retire, aren’t you?” The rudeness of my tone shocked me but didn’t seem to faze Marc. "That was uncalled for. I’m sorry.”

He shrugged. "Consider it a career change. I build boats.”

"I remember Peter mentioning a boat builder. Any chance you’re still licensed to practice law?”

"Yes, but I don’t.” His jaw tightened.

"I’m hiring you.” I’d go with my woman’s intuition and trust him. "I found a card.” I shouldn’t have picked it up, but I did, and now it burned a hole in my pocket. "Specifically, an ace of hearts.”

"What are you talking about?”

"On the living room floor.” I pulled the card from my pocket, and a tube of lip balm slid out with it and dropped to the floor. "I found this card close to Peter’s body. Do you think there’s a connection to the casino man? Or could it be the killer’s calling card? Maybe we’ve stumbled across a serial killer.”

"Hold it. Serial killers are rare. Why’d you pick it up?”

I shook my head. "I don’t know. Peter always liked things neat. I just didn’t think.”

"Where exactly did you find it?” His fists landed on his hips.

"It wasn’t touching the body. I’d say it was close to the end table by the couch. On the dining room side. Not the foyer side of the couch.”

"We’ll show it to the sheriff.”

"It’s got my fingerprints on it now.” I was too young to go to jail, although truthfully, thirty approached with the speed of a 310-horsepower jet ski. I’d find a way to prove my innocence, because as much as I respected the police, they didn’t always catch the bad guy.

"It might also have the killer’s fingerprints. Lay it on the counter.” He pointed to the golden granite countertop on the white cabinet base.

The slick playing card was cool in my hand. "What if the cops arrest me? Don’t forget I’ve hired you.”

"You’re not listening. I’m a boat builder now.” His spine straight­ened, making him much taller than me. "Did you kill Peter?”

The faint wail of sirens drifted through the air. We were out in the county, so it’d probably be the sheriff or a deputy. I took a deep breath and released it. "I already told you. I didn’t kill Peter.”

"Then you’ve got nothing to worry about.” His gaze drifted to the counter where I’d placed the ace of hearts.

"Easy for you to say. You were second on the scene.” I reached for my tube of lip balm and rubbed it across my sunburned lips.

"Have you ever been arrested? Do you have a record?”

"No.” My answer came out shrill. I was a good girl who followed the rules. I even drove down the appropriate aisles in a parking lot. How had I gotten myself into this fix?

The sirens grew louder, and Chubb howled.

"It’s okay, boy. The good guys are coming.” I dug through Peter’s box of dog supplies and retrieved Chubb’s ThunderShirt.

Marc’s eyebrows rose and wrinkles waved across his forehead. "What are you doing?”

"Even though there’s not a storm, maybe this will calm Chubb down. He’s still an excitable puppy, and the sirens and activity may put him on edge.” I secured the jacket around his belly and under his neck. "There you go. It’s going to be okay.”

Although if you considered the puppy was now an orphan, people would soon be stomping in and out of the house, and the coroner would take Chubb’s deceased master away, nothing would be okay again.

Marc left us alone in the kitchen and returned moments later. "They’re here. I’ll meet them at the front door and explain you’re back here with Peter’s dog.”

I nodded. "No, wait. Can I trust you? Or do you plan to rat me out?”

"You’re something else, Andi Grace. First you try to hire me, and now you don’t trust me.” He ran a hand over his face.

"You refused to represent me, but you make a good point.” I met his gray-eyed gaze, and something unexplainable flowed through me. "I trust you.”

He sighed and left Chubb and I alone in the kitchen until Sheriff Wade Stone appeared. "Andi Grace, I hear you’re the one who found Peter’s body. I need you to tell me what happened.”

Chubb whined before I could reply.

Marc appeared. "Excuse me, how about I take the dog for a walk? Give y’all some privacy.”

I attached Chubb’s leash and passed it to Marc. "Thanks.”

"Yes, ma’am.” He disappeared out the back door just off the laundry room.

I faced Wade. "I showed up this morning to walk Chubb and found Peter’s body in the living room.”

"Did you touch anything?”

"I’m afraid so.” The room tilted on me. "Uh, Wade, can we sit down?”

"Sure. Take a seat at the island.” He pulled a tall chair out for me, and I sank into it. "Andi Grace, any chance you know why there’s only one playing card here?”

I propped my arms on the cool granite countertop. "It’s going to have my fingerprints on it. Please don’t get mad at me, but I picked it up earlier.”

He stiffened. "That wasn’t a very smart move. Tell me everything.”

I shared my story with him and answered his questions. It took almost an hour, and I was beyond exhausted.

Wade studied me. "Did you kill Peter?”

"No, he was always kind to me. I had no reason to hurt him.” A tear rolled down my cheek, and I swiped it away. Nobody cried pretty, but with my blond hair, blue eyes, and freckles I was a legit ugly crier. "Do you believe me?”

"At this point, I’m gathering facts. Walk me through your story from the moment you entered the house.”

I followed him to the foyer and retraced my steps for him. Outside the living room window, the sun shone bright. Marc played with Chubb in the shade. I smiled before my thoughts returned to the murder scene.

It seemed like hours before the sheriff finished interrogating me. I plodded out the door, and Marc entered the house. He wasn’t allowed to speak to me, and a deputy watched as Marc handed me the leash.

I didn’t speak a word until climbing into my Suburban. I’d parked under an old oak tree in front of Peter’s home, and it wasn’t steaming hot. I sat in the driver’s seat, and Chubb lay in the passenger seat.

A breeze drifted up from the river. Combined with the shade, the heat was bearable. I took notes in my journal on everything that came to mind about the crime scene. When I wrote all I could remember, I tapped my pen against the paper. Would the sheriff question Marc as thoroughly as he had me?

I wasn’t sure what to think about the handsome, tall, and somewhat brooding attorney. Of course, finding a man dead wasn’t the occasion to crack jokes and be the life of the party. I fanned myself with the jour­nal.

Chubb propped his head on the console next to me. His heavy breathing filled the air. Crickets chirped in the surrounding woods. A peaceful day, if not for the fact my friend had been murdered.

What had Peter been wearing? I remembered what Marc wore. If the situation were different, I might be attracted to him. Too bad I’d always think of him as the man who thought I was capable of murder. I wouldn’t hurt a mosquito. Okay, that might take it a bit far, but no way would I hurt another person.

"What are you doing?” Marc appeared beside my SUV and propped an elbow on the ledge of my rolled-down window.

I gasped and reached for my heart. "Whoa. You gave me a fright.”

"Sorry. Thought you saw me coming.”

"How’d your interview go?”

He shrugged his broad shoulders. "Fine.”

"Did they mention me?”


"You’re a man of few words, aren’t you?”

"No need to say a lot when one word will do.” He gave me a half-smile.

I’d never get information if he played coy. "Are you sure you’re an attorney? I thought y’all had lots to say.”

"Might be the reason I quit practicing law.”

Arg. He was about to get on my last nerve. "Let’s get more precise. Sheriff Stone drilled me on my relationship with Peter and why I was at the house this morning. He asked about my normal dog walk­ing procedures. I’m worried he thinks either I killed Peter or maybe the killer got my key. It’s impossible the killer got my key, because I still have it.” I held up the key on a ring with a code tag. "Everybody I work for has a key with their own code. Even if somebody had broken into my house to get Peter’s key, they’d have to know my coding system of matching keys to homes.”

"Sounds like you’ve thought of everything.” He clamped his lips together.

I expelled a long breath and shook my head. "Not even close. I never considered stumbling upon a dead client.”

"I’m sure most people don’t plan on that.”

Un, deux, trois, quatre. "You aren’t helping. What’d you tell the sheriff?”

"The truth.”

It was going to take more than counting in French to calm me down. I needed to remain cool so Marc didn’t think I was a deranged killer. "Did you tell him you accused me of murdering Peter?”

"I confessed that my first thought was you’d hurt Peter.”

"You what?” I straightened in my seat. "How could you?”

"Hold on a second. I cleared up the misunderstanding then stuck to the facts.”

Relief swooshed through me. "How did Sheriff Stone react?”

"He’s got a good poker face.”

So did Marc, and I didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with him. I gave up. For the moment. "Can we leave now?”

"The deputy has our information and said we’re free to go.”

I tapped the pen against my purple journal. "Do you remember what Peter was wearing?”

"Braves T-shirt and jeans. Black Converse.”

"You’re right.” I jotted the information down. Why hadn’t I remembered?

"Why are you taking notes?”

I avoided meeting his gaze. How could I explain my desire to solve Peter’s murder? The police had never found the hit-and-run driver who killed my parents twelve years ago. They called it a cold case. Nobody was perfect, and I’d never blame them for the lack of clues. Still, I realized the sheriff might see me as the most likely suspect and quit looking for the real killer. If I helped find the person responsible for Peter’s death, I’d be able to clear my name and get justice for Peter.

Marc rested both arms on the top of my SUV. "Well?”

"What?” Oh, yeah. He’d asked about my notes. "I wanted to be a journalist when I was growing up. Here’s a chance to put my investigative skills to the test while trying to get justice for Peter. Any chance you’d tell me the name of the casino developer?” A warm breeze drifted into the truck which gave me a bit of relief from the late afternoon heat.

Marc pushed back and stood straight. "George Reeves. He’s not a local.”

That much I had figured out on my own. I’d lived in Heyward Beach my entire life, and I knew the locals. To say so would sound bad-mannered. Instead, I nodded and added the name to my list. "Thanks.”

"Before you start investigating, do you have a husband or boyfriend to protect you?”

My shoulders tightened. "Don’t you think you’re being a little chauvinistic?”

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