Authors: K.J. Emrick
First published in Australia by South Coast Publishing, December 2013.
Copyright K.J. Emrick (2013)
This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and locations portrayed in this book and the names herein are fictitious. Any similarity to or identification
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Humming softly to herself Darcy Sweet carefully turned the pieces of chicken that were sizzling in the pan on her stove. She swept a bit of her dark hair back over her ear and smiled. The scent of the delicious herbs and spices they were coated in wafted up and she sniffed at the air appreciably.
Her eyes drifted towards the window. Looking out she could just barely see the neighboring house in the distance. It had been standing empty ever since her neighbor Anna Louis had been murdered just a month ago. Darcy had found her body. Then she endured the whole traumatic experience of bringing the murderer to justice.
Things like that happened in Darcy’s life. She attracted trouble.
Darcy sighed. She supposed that the house would go on the market soon and be sold. The thought of it made her very sad. Of course, she hoped that her new neighbors would be nice and that she would like them. Life moved on. In this instance, she could hope it wasn’t so, however.
She felt something nudging her leg and looked down to find Smudge, her black and white tomcat, rubbing up against her.
“Sorry Smudge old fellow,” she spoke to the cat like he could understand her, “you can’t have any of this chicken. It’s for someone else.” The cat gave her an offended look before turning and prancing away. Darcy smiled. He understood more than most people gave him credit for.
“Wow that smells really amazing.” Darcy’s boyfriend, Jon Tinker, entered the room and came over to her. He grabbed her around the waist and planted a kiss on her cheek. She leaned back against his chest as he rested his chin on the top of her head. “I didn’t realize you were such a great cook back when I agreed to go out with you.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck. “Well, I guess we haven’t really known each other that long have we? And what do you mean, you agreed to date me? You were the one who asked me, Mister Police Detective.”
He smiled at her with that special look he had just for her. All those events that had taken her good friend Anna from her and turned the town upside down last month had brought her and Jon together, as well. Jeff, her ex-husband, had been murdered also just days after Anna. It hadn’t been a real great time for Darcy. But Jon had been there for her. Once she had gotten past the tough police exterior, anyway.
“No,” Jon agreed with her. “I don’t think I’ve had enough time with you. Definitely not. But we’re going to make up for that now.” She lost herself in his deep blue eyes and almost missed when he leaned over and tried to snag a piece of chicken.
Slapping his hand away she said, “Uh, uh. Not yet. You don’t get to taste it until it’s ready. Could you set the table please?” She smiled sweetly at him and he pretended to pout as he went to do what she’d asked. He knew where everything was in her house now, and flawlessly set out two plates, forks and knives and napkins and then glasses of water. When dinner was ready, she brought it to the table and they sat down to eat.
He took his first bite and made sure to let her see his eyes roll back with a little smile. She laughed at him, but appreciated the way he enjoyed the meal. The rice and apple side dish had been her great-aunt’s recipe. After a few moments of silent eating, she brought up what had been weighing on her mind. “I was thinking about Anna as I was cooking the meal.”
Jon looked at her for a long moment, chewing and swallowing his bite of food. The events of last month had been hard on her, and she knew it. She had lost a good friend and an ex-husband. Not to mention the small moment in time when she was almost killed by the murderer, who turned out to be a friend.
“There are no updates about Steve and Jess,” Jon finally said to her. She knew he shouldn’t even be telling her this much. It was a sign of how much he cared. “Their case is going to trial soon and after that we’ll know more. Although it looks as though Jess may not have to go to trial thanks to her cooperating with us like she did.”
Darcy started to twirl the delicate antique ring on her finger that had belonged to her great aunt Millie. Outside of the bookstore that she operated in town, and this house that had been gifted to her by Millie, the ring was the greatest memento she had of a woman who had been so important in her life. Twirling the ring was a habit she had whenever she got stressed or anxious. And right now thinking about the events of the previous month was definitely making her anxious.
Steve Nelson, Misty Hollow’s mayor at the time, and Jess O’Connor had been having an affair. Jess had worked at the bank, and the two of them had been skimming money from the council funds. Anna and Jeff, Darcy’s friend and her ex-husband, had both worked out what was going on and Steve had killed them. When Darcy had stumbled onto evidence of what was going on, Steve had tried to silence her, too, and Jon had saved her. With Smudge’s help, of course. They were both in jail now awaiting their fate.
Feeling Jon’s eyes upon her frantic ring twirling, she abruptly stopped and jumped up out of her chair. “Sorry, I sort of zoned out there for a moment,” Darcy said. She started to clear the table and kept her back to Jon as she wiped the tear from the corner of her eye. She dumped the dirty dishes in the sink, set the leftover chicken and rice into a container, and as she turned back to the table she found Jon standing there watching her. He had such a serious look on his face. When she tried to speak and couldn’t find the words he pulled her into his arms and lowered his head to kiss her instead. It was a sweet, gentle kiss.
Pulling back he looked her in the eyes and said, “I love you Darcy.”
She caught her breath at his words. Somehow it washed all the pain and bad memories away. “I love you too, Jon.”
She’d known for a while now that she loved him. And in her heart, she had known that he loved her, too. He’d never said it before, though. Not before now.
He always knew just the right thing to say. Darcy was so glad that she’d found him.
The next morning Darcy was in such a great mood as she walked to work at the Sweet Read Bookstore. She had a definite spring in her step as she walked through the center of town. She waved happily to a couple of people she knew at the door to the book store, flipping the sign from ‘CLOSED, THE END’ to ‘OPEN a good book today’.
Darcy went behind the counter to get things ready for the day. Sometime later the bell over the door jangled loudly and someone burst through the door. Darcy looked up to see her single employee Sue Fisher rushing in wearing a tight pair of jeans and a flattering red blouse, her blonde hair whirling around her shoulders.
“Sorry I’m late,” she said by way of apology. “But I did bring coffee.” She lifted a couple of cups up to eye level and Darcy smiled.
Darcy knew full well why Sue was late. The woman was only twenty, a college student, and Darcy was lucky to have her as an assistant while she was taking a break from her law degree for a year. Sue was one of the most level-headed women Darcy knew but she was still a young woman. She would have been having a good old gossip at the bakery when she picked up the coffees.
“So what’s the news about town today, then?” Darcy was sure that Sue would have something to tell.
Sue handed Darcy one of the coffees and settled down on a stool behind the counter. It looked like she was settling in for a good long chat. Darcy took a sip of her coffee, a little smile playing around her lips.
“You will never guess it,” Sue said to her excitedly, swinging her feet like a little child. “Helen is running for mayor.”
Darcy didn’t know what to say to that. Helen Nelson was the soon to be ex-wife of the former mayor of Misty Hollow, the same man who had murdered two people just to keep secret the affair he was having from Helen. She had been running things in the town since Steve had been arrested at the suggestion of the town council and the support of the voters, Darcy included. There was going to be a special election in a few weeks to decide on a new mayor. It would be wonderful if Helen was elected.
“Everyone thinks that Helen is going to win and become the new mayor. Wouldn’t that be great?” Sue’s eyes were wide and it was obvious she was eating the gossip up.
“They don’t have this kind of drama in that fancy college town you used to go to?” Darcy asked her.
“Are you serious? The most we ever got there was professors hitting on us cute co-eds.” She giggled as she said it. “Or stupid stuff like the captain of the football team stealing a police car. I much prefer this town. This place is interesting.” She drew out the last word like it was a sweet piece of candy between her teeth.
“I don’t know if murders qualify us to be interesting,” Darcy tried to imitate the way Sue had said it but the word was more sour than sweet on her lips.
“Okay, yeah, I know what you mean, but apparently we’re interesting enough to draw people here to live. According to Helen, a newlywed couple have moved into the old mill house.” Helen hadn’t just been the wife of the town’s mayor. She owned and operated the Bean There Bakery and Café, the only bakery-slash-coffee house in town as well. The business had been at risk of closing before the scandal happened. But now, with all of the negative publicity, business was booming. Darcy was happy for her friend’s good luck, but sad that it had come at such a price.
Sue continued, “Oh and Blake and Pete’s cousin has moved to town as well.” Sue looked coy for a moment. “Randy is thinking about moving here also.” Randy was Sue’s on again off again boyfriend. Darcy gathered that the relationship must be on again right now.
“What do you think about that then?” Darcy couldn’t help ask the question.
Sue screwed her face up. “I’m not sure that it is such a good idea. We can’t seem to settle into a steady relationship. We argue over the stupidest things. I’m just afraid that if he moves here it will be worse and we will break up for good.”