Burned in Craven

Burned in Craven

C. Hope Clark

November 2021 $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-61026-169-2

Book 2 of The Craven County Mysteries

Our PriceUS$16.95
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Quinn Sterling left the FBI for the Lowcountry, and no one questions her loyalty to Craven County or her willingness to do what it takes to nail the truth. When a school board member hires her for a domestic issue, the marital problem morphs into a treacherous stew of politics and corruption. Public school board squabbles turn into threats, then arson, then murder, and Quinn suspects that the crime spree is more sophisticated than the rural county’s small-time politicians. Someone is willing to kill for financial gain, and Quinn recognizes a dark, sinister force threatening the lives of every board member… and every member of Quinn’s adopted family when Jonah Proveaux, the Sterling Banks foreman and Quinn’s childhood friend, steps in to shield an elderly woman from harassment and a land grab scheme.

Quinn is kicking a hornet’s nest, only these hornets play with fire, death, and guns.

C. HOPE CLARK has a fascination with the mystery genre and is au­thor of the Carolina Slade Mystery Series, the Edisto Island Mysteries, and now the Craven County Mysteries, all of which are set in the Lowcountry and her home state of South Carolina. In her previous federal life, she performed admin­is­trative investigations and married the agent she met on a bribery investigation. She enjoys nothing more than editing her books on the back porch with him, overlooking the lake, with bourbons in hand. She can be found either on the banks of Lake Murray or Edisto Beach with one or two dachshunds in her lap. Hope is also editor of the award-winning FundsforWriters.com.





Author of multiple award winning series receiving the Epic Award, Silver Falchion Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award, and most recently the Imaginarium Award for Best Mystery Novel of the Year.

"The story is addictive...Clark makes us question what's really happening.”

—Brad Cox, Netgalley reviewer on Reunion on Edisto

"I will be looking for the others in the series. Well written, believable char­acters, and well plotted mystery combined to immerse the reader.”

—Tammy Howard, The Protagonists Pub on Reunion on Edisto

"A great read and a thrilling ride.Couldn’t put it down!!”

—Lisa Mclaughlin, Netgalley reviewer on Reunion on Edisto

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Chapter 1

LIKE DISTANT BOWLING balls taking the lane, thunder rolled across the South Carolina Lowcountry, warning of rain to come. To top it off, June measured unseasonably warm, and at seven thirty, the evening held a stickiness usually reserved for July.

As Quinn sat in her pickup, mashing her loose red curls under an Edisto Quail Club hunting cap and debating bringing an umbrella, she couldn’t help but think...It was a dark and stormy night. A cliché and the only line she remembered from high school Lit class. God knows who the author was, but the quote was the best she could muster seated outside Craven High School auditorium. The last time she’d been here was to have a second transcript sent to the FBI, when they offered her a co-op internship in college.

By the time she stepped off the running board, small drops began to hit the asphalt. She might regret her sneakers in lieu of boots decision with this weather.

Quinn had hoped to slink inside unnoticed. Unfortunately, staff and, surprisingly, two county deputies, directed attendees through double doors via a metal detector. One of the uniforms winked.

"Hey, Quinn. You aren’t armed, are you?” said Deputy Harrison, tongue-in-cheek.

Not her favorite uniform in the Sheriff’s office, primarily because of a certain one-night stand on the eve of his wedding—a wedding she’d known nothing about.

She started to say, Why, you expecting me to shoot kids? But she quickly deemed that unwise. "Not today, Harrison.” He let her through unchecked. She could get him in trouble for that, but she gave him a pass.

She’d never been to a school board meeting, envisioning them dry as dirt and boring as a phone book. She peeked in the door, and from the heads she roughly estimated a hundred people facing the stage. They were so serious one would think they were holding senatorial hearings for the Supreme Court. Usually it took the fourth of July or Christmas to draw this level of attendance for anything in Craven County,so maybe this meeting would be of more interest than she thought.

Quinn came to observe first-hand the nastiness her client professed took place at these meetings. The woman nearest the door smiled in re­cog­nition. Yeah, Quinn might as well go in now. The door squealed metal on metal, making half the room turn to see her enter. Completely recog­nized now—not that a five-foot-ten, red-headed female could go unde­tected—people spoke to her in whispered greetings as she hunted an empty place. Others barely snatched a glance before returning intense atten­tion to whatever this was. Some texted hard on their phones. No­body smiled.

Thick disgruntlement owned this crowd for sure.

Her client said this meeting would be controversial, and had told her to join the Craven Living Facebook group to learn more. Quinn had joined, but after five minutes of scrolling had tired of the bitterness, condescension, and small-minded tit-for-tat. More emotion than fact, typical of social media.

Maybe she should have read minutes of previous meetings instead. In what Quinn deemed overkill, the district website preserved videos of past meetings, providing the world proof of their incredible accomplishments. Who watched those things?

The folding seats in the auditorium were distanced, not unlike keep­ing kids arms-length from each other to avoid hands-on teasing, and taken. Wait. Thank God. She found a place in the rear butted against folded bleachers.

As niece to the sheriff and the last heir of the oldest family in the oldest county in South Carolina, Quinn Sterling rarely set foot anywhere local without somebody noticing and following up with the question of when she would settle down, marry her childhood friend, Jonah, and pop out babies. She expected a well-oiled rumor mill to crank up by tomorrow with her setting foot in a school.

Hopefully not. She studied the front of the room.

Her client, board member Iona Bakeman, age forty, sat prim and proper behind her name plate. She wore a crisp navy blue suit, seated second from the right. She had made brief eye contact when Quinn en­tered but not now.

She was in the process of making a motion in a forceful voice which sounded completely unnatural. "I move we accept last month’s minutes.”

Two others hands raised to second the motion, but Ella Mae Dewberry flapped hers with zeal.

The gentleman in the middle, chairman per his name plate, obliged Ella Mae in a tired, droll manner, as though accustomed to her enthu­siasm. "Ms. Dewberry.”

"I second that motion, Mr. Chairman.” Ella Mae spoke as if to kin­der­garteners, the full time mom and school volunteer way too excited for an evening so glum. Not a bad Marilyn Monroe impersonation, though.

The chairman orally accepted, then a vote carried the day.

Iona had well described each board member with little chance of Quinn mistaking one for another. They couldn’t have been cast any better in a sit-com. Four women and three men, plus the superintendent.

Curtis Fuller, retired Air Force, a past acquaintance of Quinn’s father, sat rather unimpressed and disgusted from that scowl but silent about whatever plagued his mind. Next to him Harmon Valentine, a slim, middle-aged insurance agent un-extraordinaire, preoccupied with his phone. Then there was Guy.

Don’t cry, call Guy.

Chairman Guy Cook was an ambulance chaser who advertised along the coast with offices in Charleston, Beaufort, and Savannah. The television jingle ear-wormed itself into minds. How could it not? The auditorium curtain resembled the commercial where dancing girls high-kicked, singing about accident claims. He lived in rural Craven County to avoid Charleston people knocking on his door and to pay lower property taxes.

The eight sat behind six-foot tables draped with black tablecloths, giving the appearance of judges. Guess the Supreme Court joke wasn’t so far off, but per Quinn’s client, this team of personalities represented serious threat. Quinn was here to vet Iona’s interpretation of threat.

The naive had so many misguided definitions of the word.

Blatantly this board avoided eye contact with the audience. Quinn hoped they did more than silent passive aggression or this would be a wasted trip. Now half the attendees were on their phone.

As if someone heard her thoughts, a remark popped up from the far right, using the word incompetent.The crowd grumbled. Twisting around, Quinn couldn’t see who spoke, but people were showing each other their phones instead of hunting for that voice.

To Quinn’s right, a young woman scrolled, engrossed. So Quinn pulled out hers and popped into the Facebook group.

Good gracious. The group was roaring with comments so fast she found it difficult to read fast enough. That’s where the activity was. These people were live reporting with gusto, but still, rumblings began traveling the auditorium once the man who’d spoken opened that door. Verbal expression in group mode could empower at an incredible rate.

"Vote them out,” someone yelled.

"They’re not used to being accountable,” said another.

"We need the new school!”

"No, we don’t!”

The chairman pounded his gavel. "Order in this room, please. If individuals cannot contain such outbursts, they will be removed by a deputy.” Guy pointed his gavel to the back corner of the auditorium. Quinn leaned to see who he pointed to.

Son of a biscuit. Sheriff Larry Sterling himself perched in his seat and nodded with a cooperative smile to the chair. And was that... holy sugar, Deputy Tyson Jackson sat to his right. The two most senior uniforms with the Sheriff’s Office.

More disgruntlement rippled the room meriting another rap with the gavel.

Her uncle never did after-hour events. She knew Ty well enough, however, to read his annoyance at being there. He was probably ordered.

That made three deputies and the high-sheriff present. What the heck merited this level of strong-arm theater?

This was a new type of case for her. As owner of Sterling Banks Plantation, a three-thousand-acre pecan enterprise of a family that dated three centuries, she selectively chose who and what she explored as a private investigator. Her FBI training had whet her appetite enough to deter her from the mundane. Her father’s murder, her uncle’s incom­pe­tence dealing with it, and the needs of Sterling Banks unfortunately switchedher from FBI to PI.

Standard domestics didn’t blip her radar much, and child support or disability fraud ranked little higher. It wasn’t about the money. She’d inherited enough of that to take her to her grave and made enough more selling pecans. Her choices weighed on the side of importance and intrigue, sometimes simple loyalty to the people of her county.

A different board member’s voice captured her attention. "I’d like to vote we accept the two new employees as discussed in executive session.” Piper Pierce was a well-known, blue-haired native in her sixties who owned two large daycare centers, a dry cleaners, and a UPS Store in Jacksonboro, the county seat. Her brother was the county administrator. Frankly, as small as Craven County was, it was difficult to make a name for yourself and not be related to someone else already in authority somewhere.




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