Bringing in the Thieves

Bringing in the Thieves

Lora Lee

December 2014 $13.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-465-5

Frankie Lou’s back and Poppy’s madder than a wet hen.
Create a church choir filled with teenage misfits?
Over Poppy’s dead body.

Our PriceUS$13.95
Save wishlist

Synopsis | Reviews | Excerpt

Back Cover Copy


Frankie Lou’s back and Poppy’s madder than a wet hen.
Create a church choir filled with teenage misfits?
Over Poppy’s dead body.

Minister’s daughter Frankie Lou McMasters has come back to Ruby Springs, Texas with her daughter, Betsy, eleven years after running off to marry the town bad boy. Her mild notoriety as a bad girl is prime gossip for her childhood enemy, Poppy Fremont, now choir director of Faith Community Church—where Frankie Lou’s daddy, now retired to Florida, was the preacher.

When Frankie Lou comes to the deacons with a request to add a youth choir of at-risk teens she’s been coaching, Poppy throws a fit. A few hours later, Frankie Lou finds her dead in the baptistery pool. And Poppy’s not playing possum.

Frankie Lou sets out to clear her name as the main suspect, and tries to locate the real killer. Could he be sexy Joe Camps, the father of one of her teen singers? In the meantime, her momma shows up from Florida to take charge of Frankie Lou’s life. Bless her heart.

Lora Lee also writes as Loralee Lillibridge. Learn more about her contemporary romances at and Keep in tune with the Joyful Noise at



Coming soon!



Chapter One

I knew the minute I read the church bulletin that I was fixin’ to be Southern-fried and plated-up in front of God, the Faith Community Church deacons, and eventually the entire community of Ruby Springs, Texas, sure as my name’s Frankie Lou Birmingham McMasters.

My well-meaning landlady, Nettie Bloom, had decided to announce my proposed church project without asking me if I wanted her to. I had just scheduled a meeting with the deacons about it, not given them any details about the idea. I hadn’t spoken it aloud to anyone but Miss Nettie. But now there it was in print, along with Miss Nettie’s usual assortment of misplaced phrases and Mrs. Malaprop word choices. Miss Nettie had been editing the church’s newsletter, News From The Pews, for a good many years, but I’d noticed her memory getting a little tangled lately.



100 Blessings St.

Ruby Springs, Texas

As we wait for the selection of a full-time pastor, we wel­come back interim minister, Reverend Matthew Whitlaw to the pulpit next Sunday at Faith Community. His morning ser­mon will be "Jesus Walks on Water” followed by "Searching for Jesus” in the evening.

For those of you who have children and don’t know it, we have a nursery downstairs.

Members of the Weight Watchers group will meet Monday at 5:30 P.M. for weekly weigh-in. Please use large double door at the side entrance to the annex. The Low Self-Esteem Support Group will be using the back door.

Prior to prayer meeting Wednesday evening, a bean supper will be held in the church hall. Special music will follow.

Until further notice, please give massages to the church secre­tary, Lovey Muchmore. She will then give massages to the newsletter editor who will share the details in our newslet­ter.


Prayerfully submitted,

N. Bloom, Newsletter Editor

Truth be known, there were certain people who weren’t exactly thrilled by my return to the town where my daddy, Reverend Frank Birmingham, occupied the pulpit at Faith Community before his recent retirement to Florida. I’d been gone from Ruby Springs eleven years, but it seems those certain people have the combined memory of a herd of elephants. One in particular: Poppy Rose deHaven Fremont, Faith Com­munity’s choir director.

I grabbed my tote, made a quick call next door to Miss Nettie’s house, where my eleven-year-old, Betsy, was staying for dinner, then headed for the church. It was a hot spring night and bound to get hotter.

Help me, Lord, Miss Nettie and that newsletter are gonna get me killed one way or another.

THE UNEXPECTED appearance of Poppy Rose deHaven Fremont in the church’s conference room confirmed what I’d feared all along. My notoriety as the shamefully irreverent preacher’s daughter hadn’t been forgotten, even after an absence of more than a decade. Any hope of getting the deacons to approve my request had just been deep-sixed. Well, horse pucky!

There she was, the undisputed Queen of Mean, flapping her colla­gen-plumped lips faster than a whippoorwill’s tail in a windstorm while seven deacons stared in wide-eyed amazement.

I shook my head in disbelief. What in the heck had she done to her­self? Those puffy lips weren’t the only recently enhanced body parts, either. Poppy Rose was a walking, talking endorsement for the modern wonders of plastic surgery and extreme weight loss. My monthly house rent couldn’t begin to touch the high-dollar cost of that hot pink linen skirt and knit top clinging to her man-made curves closer than a coat of paint from Howard’s Hardware. Talk about extreme makeover, her body had been nipped and tucked in places I didn’t even want to think about. Yikes!

A brief but uncomfortable sting of envy zapped me so hard I could almost hear my momma saying, "Pretty is as pretty does, Frances Louise.” A die-hard fan of Downton Abbey, she never called me Frankie Lou when she was in her Lady Louisa mood.

Poppy Rose teetered toward me on nose-bleed-high stilettos, her over-enhanced boobs leading the way. Oh boy, here it comes, I thought, wondering if escape was possible. Had she seen the bulletin?

"Well, Ah declare, Frankie Lou.” Her words dripped so much toxic sweetness it made my teeth ache. "Here y’all are, stirring up trouble just like old times. You haven’t changed a bit, bless your heart.” She smiled, the bright flash of Hollywood-white teeth threatening to blind me on the spot.

I flicked a wayward strand of my straight black hair behind one ear. Now, truth is I don’t give a horse’s patoot about fashion, but does Starbucks know she’s got her Texas-big hair whipped up like a mocha latte with caramel swirls?

"Why, hello, Poppy Rose,” I said, sucking in my tummy and stick­ing out my 34B girls like they were double Ds. Hey, I have my pride, but there’s no way I would ever let anyone slice and dice my body for the sake of "perfect.”

According to Miss Nettie, Poppy Rose married into big money three years ago after meeting her future husband on a singles cruise. Miz Parvis Fremont turned her brand-new wealth into a mighty fine shop­ping career.

The impressive Fremont mansion and its extravagant interior adorn­ments is the town’s only claim to fame. Miss Nettie said Poppy Rose consulted a designer from Italy for the elaborate decorating, and the place got written up in some big architectural magazine. That bit of information teased my curiosity, but I’m not likely to ever be invited to the Ruby Springs’ wonder home. In the first place, I wasn’t even invited to the nuptials. Wouldn’t have attended anyway, since the ceremony took place during my prolonged self-exile in Austin. I understand that show-of-the-century-shindig cost a cool half-million dollars, all paid for by the groom, of course. There was even actual dancing at the reception over at the town community center, something never done before in Ruby Springs. Yes indeedy, Poppy Rose finally snagged herself a wealthy spouse. Kind of sad he died so soon. Or was it? Looking at her now, I’d say she wears her hot pink widow’s weeds just a little too perky.

A quick scan of Poppy Rose’s high-fashion apparel made me wish I’d done a better job of making my appearance more polished and pro­fes­sional-looking this evening. Unfortunately, raising a twelve-year-old daughter and working at Doc Adderly’s animal clinic every day barely gives me time for basic personal grooming, let alone extras like makeup and hair styling. Right or wrong, what you see is what you get, to quote an overused cliché.

I knew Parvis Fremont’s untimely death last year had shocked the community because his demise had been the main topic of gossip at my first coffee klatch with Miss Nettie after I’d moved in next door to her four weeks ago. According to her, Mr. Money Bags Fremont was in good health when he married his much younger bride, in spite of his advanced years. Everyone accepted the cause of his death as age-related. However, Miss Nettie had her own opinion about the coroner’s find­ings. In fact, she had opinions about a lot of happenings in Ruby Springs. She reads a lot of mystery and suspense novels.

She went on to relate how Poppy Rose, all decked out in widow’s weeds and dripping with diamonds, had carried on hysterically at her husband’s funeral, then left town the very next day for Dallas and a whirlwind shopping spree at Neiman Marcus.

Even though Poppy Rose held the highly-respected position of choir director at Faith Community now, I still couldn’t wrap my mind around the possibility that she’d turned into a nice person after all these years. I mean, that would be a stretch of imagination for anyone who knew her.

Up until now, I hadn’t told anyone about my meeting with the dea­cons tonight except Miss Nettie. The senior deacon, Mr. Botts, had assured me the agenda wouldn’t be revealed until the men were all gath­ered at the church. I wondered if Poppy Rose had found out about it. But no matter if she knew, if she thought she could stop me from asking for the deacon’s help, she was dead wrong, since Miss Nettie had jumped the gun. My bank account may not be as hefty as those belong­ing to the Rich and Rude Club of Ruby Springs, but I’ve got a sizable amount of good ol’ Texas stubborn saved up that I haven’t even used yet, so Miz Poppy Rose deHaven Fremont better watch her step. Just sayin’.

"Why, Poppy, you haven’t changed either,” I said in my best South­ern-sweetness voice. "I knew you were the church music director, but when did you become a deacon? Or should I call you deaconess now?”

My question stopped her in her tracks. She puffed up like a balloon full of hot air, and I was wishing for a pin. Far as I was concerned, fawn­ing over her new appearance wasn’t happening, so if she expected flat­tery she’d have to look somewhere else.

Momma always said lying would get me "There” same as stealing, and I wasn’t about to test the truth of her words. I knew where "There” was. Gaining back the respect of my hometown wasn’t turning out to be as easy as I’d hoped, after all.

Before Poppy could sputter another sugary insult my way, Linwood Botts broke away from the knot of men and hurried toward me, all angles, long legs, and shiny-clean cowboy boots. With a lopsided half- smile obviously inhibited by nervousness, the lanky chairman of the dea­cons’ board extended his hand like a true Texas rancher and gentle­man.

"Good to see you, Frankie Lou. The deacons and I are eager to hear about the new project you mentioned in your phone call. But first, please join us for a glass of sweet tea before we get started. Emma Jean sent over some of her lemon bars, and there’s plenty more desserts on the table. Go ahead on and help yourself to whatever strikes your fancy.”

I thanked him and shook his hand, trying not to drool as I eyed the goodies. Deacon Botts’s wife baked the best lemon bars that ever melted in my mouth. I left Poppy Rose standing there with her mouth agape and took off for the treats. She hasn’t seen the bulletin yet, I thought. Thank the Lord.

The dessert table at the end of the otherwise austere conference room was a visual delight that brought back many childhood memories of church suppers and holiday celebrations.

Mint sprigs and lemon slices were artfully arranged on dainty serv­ing dishes beside two delicate silver trays holding an assortment of scrumptious, homemade sweets. I recognized the tall, cut-glass pitchers chock-full of ice and sweet tea. Momma used to borrow them when she entertained the women’s monthly Bible studies at the parsonage. The talented ladies of Faith Community had certainly outdone themselves with their culinary skills tonight.

Without giving a thought to calories, I picked up a dessert plate, put two of Emma Jean’s delicious-looking lemon squares on it, and helped myself to a glass of cold, sweet tea. Since Betsy was eating at Miss Nettie’s this evening, I’d skipped my own supper in order not to be late to the meeting. Carbs and sugar, yummy! My sweet tooth loved me, but my waistline hollered HELP on a daily basis.

Dessert-laden plate in hand, I turned around to look for a place to sit, and WHAM! I body-slammed right into You Know Who standing behind me closer than my own shadow.

The next few seconds were right out of a classic Three Stooges scene. Before you could say pass the grits, my plate turned into an airborne launching pad, and my sweet tea, lemon bars, and cupcake went flying.

One of the lemon bars morphed into a heat-seeking missile, burrow­ing deep inside the front of Poppy’s knit top to settle who knows where. An ice cube followed the lemon bar down the path to Glory, sending good ol’ Poppy into shock. She yelped and shimmied like a hip-gyrating Twenties’ flapper. Good thing there wasn’t a pole anywhere near her, or we’d all be praying for deliverance from evil. Behind me, seven bug-eyed deacons let out a collective murmur that sounded an awful lot like Thank you, Jesus!

Where my cupcake landed was anybody’s guess, but my sweet tea bap­tized the rest of Poppy’s expensive outfit without even so much as a Hallelujah, Amen! The stunned look on her perfectly made-up face was priceless. Just to be on the safe side, I said a prayer for help under my breath. I figured it couldn’t hurt.

"Frankie Lou, you clumsy...” Poppy’s face was redder than a ripe tomato from Miss Nettie’s backyard garden.

Wilbur Hadley, one of the older deacons, rushed to the sputtering, jig­gling woman’s side with a handful of paper napkins and started dabbing at the front of her wet shirt.

When he wandered a little too close to her No Trespassing area, she slapped his hands and let out another nails-on-a-chalkboard screech. "Stop that, Wilbur, you idiot!”

Startled, the poor man backed away from the hysterical woman so fast he stumbled over his own feet and landed smack on his striped seersucker-clad keester. His fluttering hands flew up, and napkins scat­tered everywhere in a white paper blizzard. He tried to speak but couldn’t. His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down so hard it knocked his lime green bowtie crooked.

Linwood Botts hurried over to help the distraught Wilbur back to his seat and fetched him a glass of water.

It was impossible not to laugh. I clapped a hand over my mouth to stifle my chuckle. Couldn’t help it. Mr. Botts, with his wild shock of gray hair, resembled a tall and wiry Ichabod Crane. Bald-pated, short-statured Deacon Hadley reminded me of one of those painted ceramic garden gnomes that lurked in Miss Nettie’s flower beds. All he needed was a beard, a pointed hat, and green pants, but he’d have to ditch the bow tie.

The other five deacons were still staring but not at Wilbur. Oh no, their gazes were fastened on Poppy Rose, who could’ve won First Place in a wet tee-shirt contest with her expensive knit top shrunk up tighter than a two dollar bargain. As far as the men were concerned, wet was all that counted.

Shamefully, I enjoyed her moment of discomfort. While I retrieved the scattered napkins from the floor, I sincerely hoped poor Wilbur’s excitable bachelor heart didn’t go into shock from Poppy’s Oscar- worthy hysteria.

"Here, Poppy, let me,” I said, napkins poised to take up where Wilbur left off. "After all, this is my fault for not realizing you were in such a hurry to get to the desserts.”

Faster than lightning, she zapped me with a stink eye and snatched the napkins right out of my hands.

"Oh, give those to me!” Pressing them against her baptized bosom, she leaned right in my face and whispered, "And if you don’t drop your crazy plans for that choir right now, Frankie Lou, I promise you’ll regret ever coming back to Ruby Springs.”

Her last threat sizzled in my ear. So she did know!

Old resentment reared its ugly head, and it was all I could do to keep from smacking her upside her nipped-and-tucked face. I squeezed the wad of leftover napkins in my hand instead. That woman was more irritating than beach sand in my bikini.

Thankfully, she whirled off for the ladies room in a wet, lemon- scented huff, saving me the disgrace of committing a major No- No.

The deep-breathing I did to calm myself didn’t work worth a hoot, only made my stomach growl. I needed nourishment. What I didn’t need was Poppy Rose dragging my past through the muck of local gossip again. There had to be a way to stop her without getting arrested.

After Miss Bump-and-Grind stomped off to the ladies room for re­pairs, two of the deacons dragged mops and buckets from the storage closet, and everyone got to work doing cleanup. Everyone except me, that is. I wanted to help, but the men unanimously refused my offer, making me wonder if No was fixin’ to be their operative word the rest of the evening. Talk about starting off on the wrong foot.

Since there was nothing more for me to do but wait until order was re­stored, I took advantage of Poppy’s absence and indulged in two more lip-smacking lemon bars from the goody table, washing them down with a fresh glass of sweet tea. My nervous system welcomed the much- needed surge of sugar-loaded energy with a groan of pure pleas­ure. I enjoyed the momentary high as I mentally whizzed through the notes I’d prepared, frantically reworking my speech. While waiting for her return, I pulled my trusty notebook from my tote and scribbled down the changes before I forgot them. Poppy may have botched up the evening so far, but I wasn’t going down without a fight. I needed the deacons on my side, and by gosh, I intended to have them before I left tonight.

Fifteen minutes later the men had finished their cleanup and were seated behind the long table again, backin’ and forthin’ with their heads together like men are inclined to do. Those same heads swiveled like a bunch of hoot owls when a dried-out and slightly disheveled Poppy Rose charged back into the room like Custer at Little Big Horn, her bejeweled hands flashing brighter than the bubble gum lights on a cop car.

"You won’t get away with this, Frankie Lou McMasters!” Her screech endangered eardrums everywhere.

"Get away with what? Lord love a duck, Poppy Rose. You were standing behind me closer than white on rice. I already said I was sorry. It was an accident.”

I eyed Poppy’s pathetic attempt at damage control and grimaced. Talk about a repair job gone bad. The restroom’s outdated automatic hand dryer must’ve blown itself right off the wall. New wrinkles were dried in places where there’d been none BBBT—Before Baptism By Tea. Even a non-fashionista like me could see the knit top was ruined. The future of that linen skirt looked pretty iffy, too. Both pieces were now two sizes smaller.

Doing some quick mental math, I roughly estimated the cost of re­placing the two items versus the balance in my checkbook and swal­lowed a groan. Not even close. Then, without the teensiest bit of guilt, I deep-sixed any notion of reimbursing her for damages and threw up my hands in frustration. With all her money, she could afford new clothes any time. I could barely afford rent and groceries.

"I’m not talking about your boorish clumsiness, Frankie Lou. I’m talking about this!” She waved a piece of paper in my face as she passed, then slammed the thing down on the table in front of the deacons and leaned over in Earl Moss’s face so close his eyes nearly popped out of his head. "Just take a look right here!”

Believe me, Earl looked, all right, and so did the other deacons, but not at any piece of paper. Not with her bosom stuck right out there like twin torpedoes. Earl nearly choked on his sweet tea, and I swear Wilbur Hadley squealed under his breath.

"Have y’all read this?” Poppy’s screech-owl demand was just shy of glass-shattering pitch. "I’m telling y’all, the church simply cannot allow this fiasco to happen. Frankie Lou should be banned from evah being in charge of any church functions. Evah, y’all hear?”

Evah?"Now wait just a darn minute, Poppy Rose,” I said. All of a sudden my blood pressure started shooting for the high numbers. Who did she think she was? My fists were balled so tight if I’d had fancy, glued-on fingernails like Poppy’s my palms would be shredded. "You should get the facts before you go spouting stuff like that.” My head pounded with the stress of trying not to yell back. Calm was not how I was feeling.

"Oh, I’ve got facts,” she said, her face getting redder by the minute, "right here.” She stabbed the paper with a hot pink fingernail. "You’ve gone behind our backs and started a new singing group with a bunch of street punks! It says so right here in the church newsletter. A choir for sinners!”

Her outburst of hot air blew Earl’s toupee slightly off center. Wild-eyed, he scrambled to grab it and scooted his chair back out of her way like he was afraid she might jump over the table. A definite probabil­ity in her overblown exasperation, however, she kept right on ranting and waving her hands.

"Do y’all know what will happen if you let those kind of hoodlums into the church? Well, I’ll tell you. They’ll be carrying on like a bunch of heathens, that’s what. And, that’s not all.” The drama queen executed a long, theatrical pause before she continued. The deacons froze in their seats like deer caught in headlights. "The church’s name will be smeared all ovah the county. Shameful, that’s what it’ll be. Downright shameful. I insist you put a stop to this right now. Y’all hear me?” She rolled her eyes heavenward. "Lord, have mercy on us all.”

Now, Poppy Rose was full of a lot of things when we were in school, but religion definitely hadn’t been one of them. However, the deluxe hissie-fit-with-a-tail-on-it she was pitching on behalf of the church right now earned a five-star rating, bless her heart. Nothing would make her happier than to see me barred from Faith Community membership forever, but hey, I wasn’t about to let that happen. Not now, not ever.

Poppy read aloud. "New choir for teen sinners being formed to com­pete in the slumber fun next month. For more information on sinning contact Frankie Lou McMasters at Doc Adderly’s Animal Clinic.”

"That should be SINGERS, not sinners”, I yelled over the rising male chatter. "It’s a youth choral group, for cryin’ out loud, and SUM­MER FEST, not a slumber party!”

No one heard me, of course. How could they? They were all talking at once, noisier than a flock of angry blue jays sitting on a hot wire. I didn’t even try to explain that I wasn’t a contact for information on sinning. Lawd!

Poppy Rose kept on yammering and waving the bulletin at the dea­cons huddled together like Faith Community’s version of the United Nations settling a world conflict. Bless her devious heart.

I’m not a preacher’s kid for nothing. I can Hallelujah with the best of ‘em, and I intended to do just that.


No recommended products at the moment.