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Body and Soul Food

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In this page-turning new mystery series, fraternal twins Keaton and Koby will pull double duty when they take down a killer while preparing to open their new bookstore and soul-food café, Books & Biscuits.

When Koby Hill and Keaton Rutledge were orphaned at age two, they were separated, but their unbreakable connection lingered. Years later, they reunite and decide to make up for lost time and capitalize on their shared interests by opening up a well-stocked bookstore and cozy soul-food café in the quaint Pacific Northwest town of Timber Lake. But this new chapter of their lives could end on a cliffhanger after Koby's foster brother is found murdered.

The murder, which occurred in public between light-rail stops, seems impossible for the police to solve. But as Keaton and Koby know, two heads are always better than one, especially when it comes to mysteries. With just a week to go before the grand opening of their new café, the twins will use their revitalized connection with each other to make sure this is the killer's final page.

ISBN-13: 9780593336175

Media Type: Paperback(Mass Market Paperback)

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Publication Date: 11-09-2021

Pages: 336

Product Dimensions: 4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.00(d)

Series: A Books & Biscuits Mystery #1

Wall Street Journal bestselling author Abby Collette loves a good mystery. She was born and raised in Cleveland, and it's a mystery even to her why she hasn't yet moved to a warmer place. As Abby Collette, she is the author of the Ice Cream Parlor mystery series, about a millennial MBA-holding granddaughter running a family-owned ice cream shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and the upcoming Books & Biscuits mystery series, starring a set of fraternal twins who reunite and open a bookstore and soul food café. Writing as Abby L. Vandiver, she is the author of the Logan Dickerson Mysteries, featuring a second-generation archaeologist and a nonagenarian, as well as the Romaine Wilder Mysteries, pairing an East Texas medical examiner and her feisty, funeral-home-owning auntie as sleuths. Abby spends her time writing, facilitating writing workshops at local libraries and hanging out with her grandchildren, each of whom are her favorite.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

"He put his foot in those greens."

Reef stopped and looked at me. Hand hovering midway between bowl and open mouth. A forkful of collards dangling. Juice dripping. His eyes went from mine to Koby's flip-flop-clad feet to the dark, limp greens in front of him. "You mean like they do with grapes?" Scraping his teeth across the surface of his tongue, he stuck it out and scrunched up his face. "Ugh! Is that how you make 'em?"

A bright, sun-filled afternoon, we were out back of our soon-to-be bookstore and café. We'd put out three umbrellaed wooden tables with our logo in the bricked alleyway and scattered brightly colored potted plants around.

"No." Koby pursed his lips and shook his head at me. "That's not how I make them. She just learned that term," he said, and chuckled. "It's just a saying, Reef. You know. You say it about the person who cooked something that's really good."

"So you didn't actually stick your feet in 'em?" Not moving his head although talking to Koby, Reef rolled his eyes my way.

"Nope." Koby was sitting on one of the benches with the head of his yellow Labrador retriever, Remy, resting on his lap. "Not literally." He grinned and scratched Remy's head and around his torn ear. "My feet"-he held up a hand like he was swearing-"at no time during the cooking of those collard greens were anywhere near them."

Satisfied, Reef slurped the greens from his fork and covered his mouthful of food with his fist. "Man! These are good." He smacked his lips before shoveling in more, letting everyone in earshot know how much he liked them.

"You've mentioned that with each mouthful," I said, and laughed.

"Because they are." He chewed while he talked. The grin on his face matched the one Koby was wearing. "Even if you did try to sabotage my enjoyment." He narrowed his eyes at me. "Bad sister."

Koby laughed. "Don't call my sister bad."

"Koby," Reef said, swallowing his food, his laugh almost causing him to choke. "You know Keaton's my girl." He winked at me. "But what I don't get is why haven't you ever made these for me before?"

"I'm not in the habit of cooking for you, Reef."

"Well, you should, bro. Even if you need to stick your feet in them. I mean, even the juice is good."

"Guess what the juice is called," I said.

Reef looked down in his bowl and swirled the brownish-green liquid around. "Okay, I'll bite. What is it called, Keaton?"

"Pot liquor," I said.

Reef mouthed the words as he sat on the picnic bench next to my brother. "Didn't you cook 'em in water? I thought you said you put them in a pot of water. You know I don't drink anymore."

"I did cook them in water," Koby said. "It's just another word that Keaton's learned. You'd think as a librarian, her vocabulary would be broader."

Reef laughed.

"Gotcha," I said. As much as Reef teased me, it was fun to get him.

"Koby Hill and Keaton Rutledge." Reef held up his plastic bowl and winked at me. "Here's to your new venture together. If all the food is as good as what I've sampled so far, it is definitely going to be a success." He turned up his bowl and downed the juice.

Koby Hill was my twin brother. Fraternal. Of course. But there's a story to why we have different last names. One that tends to tug on the heartstrings of whomever we tell.

Born July 2, twenty-five years ago. As far as we know, the only two children of one Morie Hill, age twenty-two.

And as it was to be our fate, on July 3, two years later, we were separated after having our last birthday together the day before. Abandoned, maybe orphaned, I was soon adopted. Koby wasn't. That's how he still got to keep our biological mother's last name. Or our father's. We weren't sure about that either because we knew nothing about him. Yet.

Koby had grown up in foster care. I didn't find out about him until he showed up at my door, a DNA kit in hand. "Just to make sure," he'd said. But standing there looking at each other, neither one of us had any doubt. We knew right then that there was an incontrovertible bond between us. And the resemblance was obvious. We had no idea whom we looked like, but we definitely looked like each other. Light skin, full lips, big eyes and long lashes. He was taller than me by nearly a half a foot, one of our few differences. Our hair was sandy brown, and it had Koby questioning if we were biracial. Then his DNA came back, knocking that idea down. According to our countries of origin, we were black.

We found each other shortly after my dad died. Koby's appearance in my life was just what I needed to pull me through my grief.

My father had left me a little nest egg, and with Koby's help, we found my house in Timber Lake after I landed the library job. That was when I first found out that my twin brother was a phenomenal chef. He'd come over and hang out, cook me food and borrow from my bookshelf as if it were part of the county's library system.

It was a late-fall evening, over a big bowl of creamy, cheesy grits with big juicy blackened shrimp, that I found out about his dream. I had told him he should open a restaurant.

"You could clean up!" I said. "Everyone would come and eat your food."

"I've been thinking about doing that. With you," he'd said. "Ever since I was thirteen. That's when I first went to Mama Zola's, and she let me hang out in the kitchen with her."

"Doing it with me?" I placed an open palm on my chest. "You didn't know me when you were thirteen. How did you think you would have a business with me?"

"I knew I would find you."

"And did you think I would be able to help you cook? Because I can't cook."

"You wouldn't cook."

"What would I do?"

That was when he pulled out a tattered folded picture from his wallet. He must have found it in a magazine. The color had started to rub off.

"It's a bookstore and café." He gently passed the picture over to me. "A soul food café."

"A bookstore café?"

"No. A bookstore and a café. One business, two sides. You would run the bookstore. Which is perfect for you. I would run the restaurant."

I stared down at the picture. An archway separated the two sides, but books were everywhere. "And did you know at thirteen I was going to be a librarian?"

"I learned to cook, but my love of books was innate." He touched his heart. "I was sure you'd have that same love, too."

And he was right. My love of books came from deep inside. Going to the library was one of my first memories.

Koby had had a clear vision for Books & Biscuits. It had been his idea in the first place. And even though I had just started my first job as a librarian, it didn't take much for him to talk me into it. I could hear my father, who, at the time, hadn't too long before become my guardian angel, telling me to go ahead, spread my wings, because he knew I was ready to take on the world.

Koby had known about me all along, and after that conversation, I found that once he learned about me, he'd made plans for our lives to be spent together. Sure, he didn't know my name, but he knew I was somewhere out there.

That was thanks to Reef Jeffries. The man who'd been stopping by to help us get our new soul food and book café up and running. Yep, I decided to partner with my brother to fulfill the dream he had for the two of us. The money my dad left helped us to do that.

But anyone who stopped by while we were getting the bookstore and café up and running would have thought that Reef was in on the deal. He was always dropping by, and usually, like now, it ended with him eating up whatever Koby was working on in the kitchen.

Six years older than us, Reef had remembered that when Koby came to the group home, he hadn't come alone. A sister had been with him. Koby decided to find me. Starting at thirteen, he tracked down people who might have known us, dug through county records that might have documented our hazy history and Googled whatever information he'd come up with to find any links that might lead him to me. And thanks to all his sleuthing, eventually, somehow, he did.

Unfortunately, the only branches popping up on that genealogy website after I got my results back for us were the ones that linked us to each other. That was enough for me. But not Koby.

Koby wanted to find our biological mother. I didn't care about it. About her. I figured I just had two mothers. One I knew. One I didn't. I couldn't imagine my life any different or any better by knowing about the one who'd given birth to us. The one who'd given us away. I had Imogene Rutledge. The best mother anyone could ask for. Adoptive or otherwise. I didn't have any need to find out more. But for Koby, Morie Hill was the only mother he'd ever had, and he needed to know what had happened to her.

A beeping sound interrupted my thoughts.

"What's the alarm for?" It had gotten Koby's attention, too, but he needed to know what it was about.

"Man, mind your business." Reef laughed. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and silenced the alarm.

"You got an appointment?" Koby raised his eyebrows. "Maybe you need a reminder not to eat up all our food? I'm all for that." Koby was enjoying ribbing his friend.

"Always trying to be a detective," Reef said. Shaking his head, he stuffed the phone back in his pocket.

"You hiding something?"

"It's a reminder to take my pill. You know, my vitamin. I am so absentminded lately that I forgot to bring the vitamins with me," Reef said. He dismissed the alarm and dug into his pocket. He pulled out a red and white round peppermint candy and popped it into his mouth. He was always sucking on those minty hard candies. "Now you know all my flaws. I stopped drinking. I'm taking vitamins. My short-term memory is shot. But I'm trying to be healthier."

"Koby, come and see what I've done."

Our attention was drawn away from Koby and Reef's banter to the back door. Georgie was standing in it. Our only employee so far, she'd come to report her progress in the kitchen.

Georgie Tsai had pale skin and black hair, and her entire left arm and right lower leg were covered in colorful tattoos. Green. Red. Blue. Her body said more than she did.

After she'd worked for us for a few weeks, I wasn't sure she'd work out, and I was ready to let her go. Her nose was always stuck in the books we'd ordered when she should have been placing them on the refurbished bookshelves we'd painted white. I didn't want to have the headache she was sure to cause after we opened. But my softhearted brother took her hand, literally, led her to the kitchen and put her to work. "We've already hired her," he said to me later. "She's counting on us, just like we're counting on her. How about if we give her another chance?"

Koby had Georgie learning recipes, helping him pick out plates and flatware, painting walls, setting up tables and putting up groceries. She hadn't missed a beat with him.

"Something to show me?" Koby said, standing up. He walked over to the door "Okay. Let's see what you've done." He placed a hand on her shoulder and turned her around. "Lead the way." Remy followed right behind him. Koby stopped and patted Remy on the head. "You know you can't come in the kitchen." He held out a hand for him to sniff. "Stay." He lowered his hand and Remy sat. "You stay here. Okay?"

I followed. I hadn't been given any commands to the contrary. Plus, butterflies took flight in my belly whenever I was alone with Reef. But I was doing my best to calm all the nerves because I liked him hanging around.

Inside, I looked at the stack of boxes and books scattered everywhere and let out a huff. I needed to get to work.

The bookstore and the eatery were separated by a wide, curved archway. Each of us in charge of one side. My side was the bookstore. I had books to shelve and cozy little corners and nooks to fashion for browsing and reading. Koby had the kitchen and café seating area.

Our first tasting party and the official opening was fast approaching, and I wasn't ready. I had grand ideas that took a lot longer to execute than it did for Koby to put up groceries and set up the tables and chairs. His motto was to keep it simple. I could learn a thing or two from him.

The new furniture I'd ordered was still covered in plastic. The new wood floor was covered in drop cloths because we still needed to finish painting the walls and crown molding I had added to create ambience.

"I'm going to head out," Reef said. He'd come in behind me, threw his disposable plastic bowl into the big trash can we kept in the middle of the room. He brushed his hands together, then stuck them down in the pockets of his blue jeans. Walking over to me, his eyes locked with mine. He came and stood right next to me, brushing his bare arm against me. I could feel his warm breath on my face and the smell of peppermint when he turned to talk to me.

"Tell Koby," he said, "if he needs me to try any more dishes you guys are thinking of adding to the menu, to call me." Then he leaned in closer. "But you can call me anytime. For anything."

I wasn't able to speak until he had moved away from me. And then I wasn't sure if my voice was even audible.

He stood at the door. Hand on knob and a grin on his face.

"I-I thought you were going to help me . . ." I cleared my throat. "You know, finish unpacking books," I said, and gestured to the stacked boxes.