Authors: Rae Davies
Tags: #comic mystery, #dog mystery, #Women Sleuth, #janet evanovich, #cozy mystery, #montana, #mystery series, #antiques mystery
Book 3 in the Dusty Deals Mystery Series
By Rae Davies
Copyright Rae Davies & Lori Devoti, 2012
Cover Design: India Drummond
This book is set in the real city of Helena, Montana. However, this is a work of fiction and all people, places of business, and events are fictional. Any similarity to anyone, thing or place is purely coincidence.
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or a portion thereof, in any form. This book may not be resold or uploaded for distribution to others.
If you notice any typos or formatting issues with this book, the author would appreciate being notified.
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You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.
Or hide from them.
Trust me, I’ve tried.
It was a glorious late August day in the Rocky Mountains. The sun was in the sky, the bell above the door to my shop, Dusty Deals, had been dinging all morning, and my Alaskan malamute, Kiska, had yet to eat anything more valuable than a 45-cent stamp.
Okay, four 45-cent stamps, but still a good start to what I could feel in my deal-loving heart was going to be a highly profitable week.
Best of all, my part-time employee, Betty Broward, was back at work. Her husband, Everett, played in a jazz band whenever he could get a “gig,” and Betty went along. Not just as moral support, either. Betty adored all that was jazz from clothing to slang. To her it wasn’t a period in time, it was a movement.
“Did you check the ad?” She waved her hand toward the computer, causing the maroon feather boa she was wearing to flutter.
Helena Daily News
had recently gone to an all-electronic proof system. A decision I wasn’t sure I completely approved of, but with my big old $1,000-a-year advertising budget, I doubted my concerns would give the publisher much pause.
“Maybe we should have gone bigger,” I mused. The bell had been dinging all morning, and the upcoming Labor Day weekend promised to be huge. A convention was coming to town. Five hundred beef ranchers and their bored, hopefully wealthy wives would be descending on Helena in the next few days.
There would be events too: an historic breeds show and a cattle drive through town. Both held the promise of drawing in at least a few tourists with cash.
The phone rang. Betty picked it up but immediately held the receiver out for me.
It was Rhonda Simpson, my best friend. She also owned the used book store, Spirit Books, with which Dusty Deals shared a wall. “Look outside! I may be in love.”
Rhonda was always in love, but still, her call was intriguing. I was making my way to the front door when the bell above it dinged again.
In waddled a goose.
Not a goose-like person. No, a real fully feathered white barnyard goose.
And she was wearing black leather. Faux leather, actually. I knew this, because I also knew the goose.
A vise tightened around my heart, and my breakfast bagel flopped over inside my stomach.
The usually unflappable Betty stared from the fowl to me and then back at the goose.
“It’s a goose. Wearing motorcycle gear,” she declared, 100% unnecessarily.
The goose turned its head to the side, studying me. For a moment, I had hope. The creature didn’t seem to recognize me. Its appearance could be a coincidence.
There were plenty of geese in Montana and surely some of them wore faux leather jackets.
Kiska meandered out of my office, a bored but quizzical look on his face.
He spotted the goose seconds before it spotted him.
I dove for his collar, but it was too late. He had moved forward, ears perked and nose extended. He got maybe a foot from his target before the goose decided it did not desire his attentions in the slightest.
It rose to its full height and extended its wings.
The sight was impressive, at least until the creature extended its span an extra inch. Then all hell broke loose.
The goose’s wing brushed against a stack of collectible tins I’d recently acquired at an estate sale, knocking them onto the floor.
The tins clattered, the malamute jumped, and the goose hissed.
Then she lowered her head and charged. Her beak was open, and there was death in her eyes.
Kiska, contrary to what others may say, was not an idiot. He turned, or tried to, in the small space, knocking more tins and magazines and a particularly cute porcupine-shaped planter that I’d been thinking of stealing for my front porch, all onto the floor.
“Crap.” I grabbed at the avalanche of goods, managing to rip the cover off a 1942 edition of
magazine and send one small tin sailing across the room to hit Betty squarely between the eyes.
“So not the bomb,” Betty muttered, reaching for a silver waiter’s tray. “What caused the goose to blow its top?” she asked. “Did Kiska eat her corn?”
I didn’t bother replying. It was possible. Kiska did have a bit of a history of eating anything and everything, but most importantly, the goose’s continued advance and my dog’s continued retreat was sending more merchandise on a collision trip with the floor.
And me. I slipped on the stack of magazines and landed butt first in front of the goose.
The enraged barnyard beast honked and turned its attention from my dog to me.
For one terrifying second, my range of vision was filled with angry beady black eyes hovering over one gigantic orange beak.
Then, just as quickly, the sight was gone, replaced by the clean reassuring glint of cold, strong silver.
Betty stood beside me, holding the goose at bay with the tray and shaking her head. “Makes me want to get a few more of these, it does.” She held out her boa for the goose’s perusal.
The creature turned its head away in a direct snub of Betty’s insult.
“Don’t get it angry!” I grabbed Betty’s beaded vintage skirt to help me to my feet.
She looked at me with much the same expression as the goose had right before it charged. I quickly let go of the beaded silk and flipped to my knees so I could stand unaided.
Upright, I hesitated. Cut off from attack by the tray, the goose seemed to have calmed. At least it wasn’t honking or hissing or lunging over the make-shift shield with murder on its mind.
Betty peered over the tray. “It has style. I’ll say that.”
“Yes, it does.” With the panic over, my ability to think returned.
“What do you think its name is?” I asked, chewing on my lip.
Betty raised both brows. “How should I know? I just wear feathers. I don’t speak goose.”
“Do you think it looks like a Pauline?”
“Pauline? What kind of name is that for a—”
The door dinged again, and I knew without looking that my perfect week had just taken a dive into the crapper.
“Hey, Lucy Belle. You and Pauline gettin’ reacquainted?”
My brother had come to call.
Resolve settling on me like wet concrete, I looked up slowly.
He hadn’t changed much in the two years since I’d seen him. He was as tall, blond and blue-eyed as ever. His outfit was about the same too. His wardrobe had always been made up of camouflage pants and T shirts. Today’s pants were gray camo, and his T bore the word
in bright orange letters.
“Ben,” I said more as a statement of fact than a greeting.
Montana is a good two-day drive from Missouri and at least two plane changes by air. I’m not saying either of those factored into my decision to move here, but they were nice little bonuses.
He shoved his hands into his pockets and glanced around. His gaze moved smoothly over Pauline, who Betty was still holding at bay, to Kiska, me, and then finally back over his shoulder at the door.
A horrifying possibility occurred to me. “I talked to Mom a few days ago. She didn’t mention—” My heart jumping inside my chest, I leaned to the side, trying to see around my annoyingly broad-shouldered brother while also calculating the distance from where I stood to the back door.
His gaze returned to me veiled and untelling. He opened his mouth, and the world slowed. I could see his lips moving and hear his intake of breath as he prepared to respond. I was about to jump over the space that separated us and shake the answer from him when his goose beat me to it.
My brother, never one to be long on attention span, at least when I wanted something from him, scooped the creature up and stared around the store again. “So this is what you spent Granny’s money on.”
The words might as well have come directly out of my mother’s mouth; the judgment was that clear. At least to my already-defensive ears.
My shoulders pulled back, and my hand dropped to my side where Kiska had moved into a protective place. Okay, maybe he’d just sidled up to get a better view of the show, but I’m sure he sensed my distress too.
I stroked his fur and stared my brother down. “And what did you use your money on?” I glanced at Pauline with purpose. Goose gear, obviously.
“Ha!” he replied.
“Ha?” My brother had always been annoyingly laid back. This burst of laughter caught me by surprise and not in a good way. My fingers tightened on Kiska’s ruff. He made a grumbling noise in the back of his throat and looked up at me, annoyed. I went back to smoothing his fur until he huffed out a breath and sat.
“HA!” Ben moved his goose so I could read his T shirt. “I didn’t give it to them, but I’m using it to live on so I can support the cause.”
“Support the cause?” This was sounding dangerously like my brother was doing something good and selfless with the inheritance we’d received when our grandmother died. Part of the inheritance, at least. There was still more to come in five years if we were married and “settled.” Whatever that meant.
My family dictating my life even from the grave.
And my brother here in person, showing me up.
“HA!” I read, hoping saying the word would dislodge some inkling as to what the hell the group was.
Betty eased up next to me and whispered, “Animal rights.” She fingered her boa.
Animal rights? And Ben was using the money to support their cause, and he was in Helena right now? Right before the beef ranchers were to arrive?
I can be slow, but the thoughts added up pretty quick. Shaking my head, I moved forward and waved my hands in the direction of Ben, his goose and, most importantly, the door.
“Nuh uh. No way.” Nice visit; now time to go. I had plans for those beef ranchers, plans that didn’t include my brother or anyone else waving signs and singing songs and upsetting the flow of dollars from them to me.
The bell dinged again and, remembering my earlier concern that my mother had tagged along with Ben, my heart froze.
“Lucy?” Rhonda stopped just inside the front door. Her hand lifted to her lips and her eyes rounded with innocence. “Oh, am I interrupting?”
Relief that it was not my mother staring at me from the doorway hit first, but it was quickly followed by annoyed suspicion.
Rhonda was a bit of a Birkenstock-wearing, yoga-loving man addict. My brother was a man. If I was going to be truthful, a good-looking man.
And then there was the call I’d received just minutes earlier.
Rhonda in love with my brother?
So not happening on my watch.
I grabbed Ben by the shoulder and spun him and his goose so they faced the front door and, unfortunately, Rhonda.
She batted her mascara-free lashes and curved her bee-balm-covered lips. Her eyes glossed over and something akin to a giggle escaped her lips.
I was close to losing her. Action was called for.
I shook my head and reached for Betty’s tray. One good whack—
Apparently reading the direction of my thoughts, Betty refused to let go.