Marriage and Murder (Cedar Bay Cozy Mystery Book 4) (5 page)

BOOK: Marriage and Murder (Cedar Bay Cozy Mystery Book 4)
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CHAPTER 7

 

Kelly took off her apron, walked down
the pier, and crossed the street to where Amanda’s Flower Shop was located. The
tinkling bell that rang when she opened the door of the shop alerted Amanda
that a customer had entered her shop. “Be with you in a moment. Feel free to
look around,” Amanda called out from the back room.

            Kelly was happy to have
some time to enjoy the scents and the colors of the various floral arrangements.
Brightly colored roses, orchids, and gladiolas were arranged in glass vases
inside the floral cooler.

           
Someone told me that Amanda
has greenhouses on her property, and that’s how she’s able to have so many blooming
flowers for sale. She probably uses warming lamps, because there’s no way
anyone could grow all these orchids this time of year in this damp climate. Not
to mention the more exotic sun-loving plants like the ginger and frangipani.
They’re simply gorgeous. I’d like to take every one of them home with me.

            “Hi, Kelly, I didn’t know
it was you. You know you’re always welcome to come into the back room,” the
petite grey-haired woman in the white smock with the words “I Love Blooming
Flowers” written in bright green on it said as she walked over to Kelly and
gave her a friendly hug.

            “Actually, I enjoyed having
a few minutes to soak up the ambience of your shop. The flowers and your
arrangements are simply breathtaking.”

            “Thanks. I’ve been really
lucky since I opened the shop a few years ago. Flowers have always been my
passion, and after Rex died it gave me something to do. I just wish I’d had the
courage to do it a long time ago. People come from all around the area to buy my
flowers and arrangements. I’ve developed quite a clientele of people who request
that I do flower arrangements for their weddings, special occasions, and some
customers even like me to deliver a weekly arrangement to their home or
business.”

            “That makes me jealous. I
sure wish I could afford a weekly arrangement, but the reason I’m here is I want
to thank you again for the lovely flowers you provided for my wedding, the
bouquets you did for Julia and me, and the floral centerpieces for the
reception. Each one was spectacular, truly a work of art.”

            “It was my pleasure, Kelly,
but would you do me a favor? If you ever get married again, don’t have your
wedding on Valentine’s Day. That’s my single busiest day of the year. I don’t
think I slept for several days beforehand. I fell in bed Saturday night at 7:00,
and the next thing I knew it was 5:00 last night. Can you believe it? I slept
for almost twenty-four hours. I got up, had a bite of dinner, went right back
to bed, and didn’t wake up until this morning. For the first time in several
days, I feel almost normal.”

            When Amanda heard the
little bell over the door tinkle, she turned to see who had come into the shop.
“Hello, Sydney. How are you? I haven’t seen you for a long time. Sydney, do you
know Kelly Conner, oops, Kelly Reynolds?”

            “Yes, I briefly met you a
long time ago when I was in your coffee shop. It’s nice to see you again.”

            “Thank you, and I’m
sorry, but I didn’t catch your last name.”

            “It’s Allen, my name is
Sydney Allen,” the tall, stately looking brunette said, her gold bracelets
jangling against one another. “I believe you were a good friend of my late ex-husband.”

            “What are you talking
about?” Amanda said in a loud voice. “Your late ex-husband? What do you mean?”

            “I guess you haven’t
heard that Jesse was murdered at The Crush yesterday. I came here today to pick
something out to give to Mrs. Allen. She and Celia decided to have Jesse
cremated rather than have a funeral,” she said, twisting a gold bracelet around
her wrist.

            “Jesse’s dead? What are
you talking about? Kelly, have you heard about it?”

            “She knows,” Sydney said.
“From what Jesse’s sister told me, she was the one who discovered Jesse’s body,
she and her husband, the sheriff.”

            Amanda turned to Kelly.
“Is that true?”

            “Yes. Since you slept all
day yesterday, you’re probably the only one in town who hasn’t heard about it.”

            “I can’t believe it,” Amanda
said, sitting down heavily in a chair next to the counter. “Why would anyone
want to kill Jesse? I’ve known him since we were in kindergarten together, and
I’ve never heard anyone say anything bad about him.”

            “Well,” Sydney said,
turning and facing Kelly, “you might want to tell your husband he’d better start
by talking to Sophie Marchant. From what I hear, it wouldn’t be the first time
she’s done something like this.”

            “What do you mean? I’ve
met her and thought she was quite lovely.”

            “Sure, she plays that
fragile little French female role to the hilt. I heard she was interested in
Jesse, so I had a private investigator see what he could find out about her.
Seems her first husband was killed while she lived in France, and she was
accused of murdering him. She got off because of a hung jury, and then she found
some rich banker guy whose family owns the biggest perfumery in France. She convinced
him to marry her and come to the United States where no one knew what had happened
to her first husband. She got her just deserts, though. He left her and married
some Hollywood starlet. Serves her right. Yeah, you better tell your husband to
start his search for my wonderful Jesse’s murderer with her. If a woman’s done
it once, she’s certainly capable of doing it again,” she said bitterly.

            “That’s a pretty strong
accusation,” Kelly said.

            “Sure is, and I’m sure
it’s well-deserved. Jesse and I were talking about reconciling, probably even
remarrying, until he met her. Mark my words, that woman either knows something
about his death or she did it.”

            “Sydney,” Kelly said, “I
can certainly understand why you’re upset, but what motive could she possibly have
for wanting him dead? If they were seeing one another, it doesn’t make any
sense for her to want to kill him.”

            “Talk is she’s been
seeing a married man during the week when she’s staying at her other home up in
Portland. Who knows? Jesse may have found out about it and gotten angry. Maybe
they had words. She’s involved, somehow. I know it in my bones.”

            Kelly looked at her
watch. “Amanda, Sydney, I have to leave and get back to the coffee shop. I’ve
been gone long enough. Amanda, once again, thank you for everything. Sydney,
I’m very sorry about Jesse, but I have to tell you, I’m having a hard time
seeing Sophie as his murderer.” She opened the door and the little bell above
the door tinkled as she left the shop.

           
I wonder if Celia and
Sydney spend every moment of the day talking about how horrible Sophie is. They
must feed off of each other. I’ve learned over the years to trust my instincts
and my instincts aren’t usually wrong. I sure hope they’re not this time,
because I really did like Sophie and her grief seemed genuine.

CHAPTER 8

 

As Kelly crossed the street on her
way back to the coffee shop, she saw Mike’s black and white patrol car pulling
into the parking lot next to the pier with Rebel riding shotgun. She ran over and
hugged Mike as he got out of the car followed by Rebel. “Hello, Sheriff Mike, how’s
my husband today?” she asked, grinning.

“A lot better after a nice
hug like that, but I could use some coffee and lunch. I’ve been looking at
files and on the phone all morning,” he said as the three of them walked into
Kelly’s. It was busy, but Kelly’s trained eye spotted an open table, and she
told him to hurry and sit down before someone else took the spot.

“I need to talk to Roxie a
minute, and then I’ll get your coffee. Take a look at the board, but I’d
recommend the baked burritos with chicken and beans. I happen to know that’s
one of your favorites.”

“Don’t need to look.
That’s what I want, and yes, it definitely is one of my favorites. Take your
time,” he said, quickly reaching into his pocket for a treat for Rebel as Kelly
walked away with her back to them.

She returned a few minutes
later with his coffee. “Mike, I went over to Amanda’s Flower Shop a little
while ago. I wanted to thank her in person for the flowers she did for the
wedding, but I need to talk to you about some things I found out while I was
there. Give me a couple more minutes, and then I can sit down. Madison’s on
break from classes this week, so she and Roxie can handle the start of the lunchtime
crowd.”

“No problem. I could use a
break myself.”

Five minutes later she
returned with his burritos and a fresh cup of coffee. “Mike, I don’t know what
you’ve found out, but I’ve had a couple of interesting conversations that I need
to share with you.” She told him about her talks with Mrs. Allen and Celia,
with Sophie, and finally her encounter with Sydney while she was at the flower
shop.

When she was finished
talking, Mike put his coffee cup down and wiped his mouth with his napkin.
“Kelly,” he said in a voice that sounded extremely aggravated, “I know you well
enough by now to know if I asked you to stop talking to possible suspects in one
of my cases that you wouldn’t. I also know you well enough to know you’d
probably have an excuse for going to see Mrs. Allen and Sophie…”

She interrupted him,
“Mike, please don’t be upset with me. As a matter of fact, I told you I was
going to Mrs. Allen’s home. I didn’t want her to find out about her son’s death
from someone else, and it was a plausible reason, not an excuse. As for Sophie
Marchant, I hadn’t planned on going there at all, but once I found out that she
and Jesse were very close, it seemed like the right thing to do, rather than
have her find out from some television report or read it in the headline of the
local newspaper. You can call those excuses if you want, but I certainly don’t,”
she said. “As for meeting Jesse’s ex-wife, Sydney Allen, at Amanda’s Flower
Shop, how could that possibly be an excuse? It was purely a random thing. How
was I to know she’d walk in the flower shop while I was there?”

“I have no idea, but you
probably saw her walking down the street or something,” he said raising his
eyebrows and taking another sip of coffee. “Oh well, I know I’m not going to
get anywhere with this. What do you make of these women? Sounds like a lot of female
cat-fighting to me.”

“I honestly don’t know.
It’s pretty obvious that Sydney and Celia hate Sophie. I liked her, but if what
Sydney says is true, then she certainly didn’t tell me everything about her
background.”

“To play the devil’s
advocate, why should she? You were someone who had just told her the man she
loved had been murdered. There was no reason for her to tell you about her
first husband’s death and the trial, if it’s true.”

“No, you’re right. I only
asked her about how she happened to come to the United States,” she said as she
paused and looked around the room. “I can’t stay much longer. Looks like we’re
getting busy, and I’ve got to help Roxie and Madison. Anyway, what did you find
out?”

“Something I sure wasn’t
expecting. I found out The Crush has been losing money for months, and that
Jesse owed back taxes and was way behind on the payments he was supposed to
make to the wineries that supplied him with the wine he sold. He was big time, seriously,
in debt. I’ve been going through his files all morning, and I found something
else that I thought was very interesting.”

“What?”

“Many years ago when he
was still married to Sydney, he’d taken an insurance policy out on his life in
the amount of one million dollars. Evidently he never changed the beneficiary after
his divorce, because Sydney is still named as the primary beneficiary.”

“Wow! That would sure give
her a motive to kill him. Jesse dies and bingo, she gets a million bucks.”

“That’s what I thought,
too, but if she wanted to reconcile with him, and she even hoped they might
remarry, it doesn’t make a lot of sense for her to kill him. I wonder if she
even knew he’d never changed the beneficiary on the policy after they got
divorced.”

“Sorry, Mike, but I’ve got
to stop our conversation. I need to help Roxie and Madison. Before I go, let me
tell you something. At our reception I noticed Jesse was perspiring heavily and
although it was a beautiful day, it was still cool. He didn’t look like his
normal self. From what you’ve just told me that might be the reason. Perhaps he
was worrying about his debts, or maybe one of his creditors was even
threatening him.

“I really do have to go. This
place is completely full, and I can see people standing outside, waiting to be
seated, but I just had a thought. Remember when Luke told me Jesse was going to
give him a crash course in winemaking when he decided to take over the White
Cloud Retreat Center? I wonder if Luke knows anything about Jesse? Would it be
okay with you if I give him a call this afternoon?”

“Sweetheart,” he said in
an exasperated voice, “would it even matter if I asked you not to? Or would it even
matter if I told you that it was my case, and I should be the one who called
Luke? Or would it matter if I told you I really don’t want you involved in this
case, because it deals with murder and I worry about you?”

“Of course it would
matter,” she said, mentally crossing her fingers behind her back.

“Somehow I doubt that, but
since you know Luke better than I do, you probably should be the one to talk to
him. I know you’ve become friends. Maybe you can find something out from him.”

“Thanks for the vote of
confidence. I’ve got to get back to work. I’ll call him later on and tell you tonight
what he had to say. You will be home for dinner tonight, won’t you?”

“Yes, there’s not much
work I can do tonight on the case. I’m trying to find out from the IRS how much
Jesse owed in back taxes, and there are a bunch of other past due bills in some
of his files I need to look at. I haven’t run across the name of a tax person
or anything like that yet. I’d like to ask his ex-wife if she knows if he had
one, but since I’ve found out she’s the beneficiary of his life insurance
policy and a possible suspect, I’m a little reluctant to do that.”

“I could ask his mother.”

“Don’t push it, Kelly.
I’ve been more than generous by agreeing to let you call Luke. My generosity
ends there. Fair enough?”

“Fair enough, and I love
you.”

“Love you too, Mrs.
Reynolds,” he said standing up, taking his signature white Stetson hat from the
hat rack near the door, and walking out of the coffee shop with Rebel closely
following. As soon as the door closed behind them, Mike reached into his pocket
for Rebel’s customary treat. “Our little secret, boy. Don’t think she’d
approve,” he said, as they walked to his sheriff’s car.

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