Thirty-Four and a Half Predicaments: Rose Gardner Mystery #7

BOOK: Thirty-Four and a Half Predicaments: Rose Gardner Mystery #7
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Thirty-Four
and a Half
Predicaments

A Rose Gardner Mystery #7

 

 

Denise Grover Swank

 

THIRTY-FOUR AND A HALF PREDICAMENTS

 

Rose Gardner hates seeing her normally flamboyant best friend Neely Kate struggle with depression. So when Rose stumbles onto a piece of evidence indicating her birth mother might have been involved in a crime, she does the one thing guaranteed to cheer Neely Kate. She convinces her friend to help her solve a mystery. Though their penchant for investigating has gotten them into plenty of pickles in the past, what can go wrong if they’re looking into a case that went cold a quarter of a century ago? But the deeper they dig, the more dirt they unearth.

 

While she’s busy unraveling the past, Rose must also reprise her role as the Lady in Black as part of her ongoing agreement with the king of the Fenton County underworld. In so doing, she discovers a mysterious enemy is intent on attacking her friends, and her assistant DA boyfriend might be next on the list. 

 

As both situations reach a boiling point, Rose must face the possibility that certain secrets were meant to remain buried and not even her special talent can get her out of every predicament.

 

 

This book is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locations are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.

 

Copyright 2015 by Denise Grover Swank

 

Cover art and design: Sarah Hansen

Developmental Editor: Angela Polidoro

Copy editor: Shannon Page

Proofreaders: Leigh Morgan

Formatting: Dallas Hodge, Everything But The Book

All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

Cold late January rain beat against the windows of the RBW Landscaping office on a Tuesday morning, and I shoved my hands deeper into my sweater. This weather had to let up soon—I wasn’t sure how much more of it I could take. Especially since so many other things in my life were such a mess.

“Aren’t you the cutest little thing?” Bruce Wayne, my friend and business partner, asked, looking down at my dog. Muffy jumped up and rested her paws on his knees, convincing him to give her a piece of his biscuit. He complied, of course. “How could I refuse that face?”

I loved my dog more than nearly anything else in the world, but I wouldn’t necessarily call her a cute little thing at the moment. At Violet’s suggestion, I’d taken her to the groomer’s, and the woman had tsked the moment I handed her over. Not that I was surprised. With her big ears and pointy nose, her gray and brown wiry hair, Muffy was never going to win any “cutest dog” awards. The groomer had attempted to beautify her anyway. When I stopped to pick her up before coming into the office, Muffy had emerged from the back with pink bows on her ears and a white lace elasticized collar that made her look like she belonged in a clown act at the circus. But every time I tried to remove them, she would release a low growl and run away. “Don’t encourage her, Bruce Wayne.”

“She’s cute.” Bruce Wayne was probably the only other person alive who appreciated Muffy’s special charm. He gave her the last of his biscuit and looked up at me. “Is Neely Kate coming in today?”

“I don’t know,” I sighed. “The doctor’s cleared her to drive, but she only leaves the house if someone forces her. All she does is sit on her sofa and watch TV.”

“She ain’t worked here long, but I miss ’er.”

“Me too.” I looked at my computer screen and the landscape design I’d come up with using our new design software. There wasn’t much call for landscaping in January, even in southern Arkansas, so Bruce Wayne and I were taking advantage of the down time.

The door opened and cold air seeped in as Jonah Pruitt, Henryetta’s own televangelist, walked in.

“Jonah,” I said in surprise, jumping out of my seat. “What are you doing here?”

He walked toward me with a grim expression. “I’ve just come back from visiting Neely Kate.” He unbuttoned his coat. “Ronnie asked me to stop by and talk to her.” He glanced at the other side of the room. “Hey, Bruce Wayne.” Then Muffy ran out from under Bruce Wayne’s desk and Jonah’s eyes widened to the size of plums. “What on earth…”

Muffy stopped in front of Jonah and stood on her back legs.

I put my hands on my hips and laughed at my little dog’s antics. “Apparently, Muffy thinks she’s joining the circus.”

Then, as the finale to her performance, she let out a plume of gas that made my eyes water. “Muffy!”

Jonah began to cough and wave his hand frantically in front of his face. “Oh, Sweet Baby Jesus.”

I stalked over to the front door and started to swing it back and forth, trying to dispel the fumes. “Bruce Wayne! Stop feeding her biscuits!”

He laughed and grabbed his coat. “How about I take her out back and see if she has to go.”

Like that was going to help. Every time I tried a new dog food or routine, her flatulence problem only seemed grow worse. At this rate, I was going to have to hand out gas masks to anyone who visited the office.

Muffy began to dance in circles when she saw Bruce Wayne grab her leash off my desk. As they went out the back door, I shut the front and returned my attention to Jonah.

“How’d it go with Neely Kate? Did she talk to
you?

“Other than the pleasantries of playing hostess, no.”

I pressed my knuckle to my teeth. “I’m worried about her, Jonah. Really worried.”

“So am I.”

I ushered him over to the overstuffed chairs in front of the window and sank into the nearest one. “What can we do?”

“She needs to talk about losing her babies. She’s keeping it all bottled up and it’s festering inside her.” He paused. “But mostly she needs time. Time to deal with her loss and to find a way to accept it.”

I shook my head, tears filling my eyes. “
I
can barely accept what happened, so how on earth can she?”

“She’ll find her own way.”

I wasn’t so sure. My best friend, who was always so boisterous and loud and fun-loving, seemed deflated, like a balloon after all the air had been let out.

“In the meantime, don’t let her push you away. Keep going over and spending time with her. Try to get her out of the house.” He glanced over his shoulder out the window. “Although today’s not the best day to be out and about.”

“There has to be something more we can do, Jonah.”

He shook his head. “Neely Kate needs lots of time and lots of love.”

I nodded. I wasn’t the most patient person, but I loved that girl like she was my own sister. The loving part wouldn’t be hard. “I’m goin’ to see her this afternoon after I talk to Violet about her interviews for help at the nursery.”

He smiled. “Good. She’ll be glad to see you, even if she doesn’t act like it.” He cast a glance toward the back door, making sure Bruce Wayne was still outside. “You and I haven’t had a meeting in over a month,” he asked in an undertone. “How are
you
doing?”

I tucked my feet underneath me. “I’m sure this isn’t what you’re askin’, but I’m perpetually cold. I’m dealing with two furnaces that can barely keep up—both here and at home. The landlord keeps doin’ patch jobs on this one rather than getting us a new unit, and I can’t afford to replace the one at the farmhouse.”

Jonah gave me a pointed look and started to say something, but I held up my hand.

“No, I won’t let Mason pay for it. And yes, he’s offered a half dozen times.”

“Rose…”

I leaned closer, lowering my voice. “He’s paying for all our living expenses. Shoot, I’m so broke he had to give me money for gas this morning.”

Worry filled his eyes. “Maybe you shouldn’t hire someone to help out at the nursery.”

I shook my head. “No, the nursery is actually bringing in money. Thankfully, the town’s overlooked Violet and Brody MacIntosh’s affair, and they’re flocking to it, even in January. Violet’s carrying more home décor items, and now she’s offering home decorating services. We need someone to cover for her when she’s gone.” This new part of the business had been a lucky accident—much like how the landscaping portion of our business had fallen into our laps months ago. One of Violet’s friends had asked her opinion on which of several items would look better in her house, and by the end of the week, Violet had three appointments to go to homes for consultations.

“And you can’t cover the shop?”

I squirmed in my seat. “Yes…but it’s busy enough that we can justify hiring someone. We figured we’d be able to train the new person before RBW Landscaping gets busy in the spring and I won’t be able to help at all.”

He pressed his lips together but didn’t say anything.

I scowled. “I know that look, Jonah Pruitt, and no, this is not an instance of me avoiding my sister. I’ve already filled in several times.”

A grin tugged at the corners of his lips. “I didn’t say a word.”

“You didn’t have to.”

“But isn’t the fact that it was the first thing to jump into your mind a telling sign?”

I groaned and gripped the arm of my chair.

He leaned forward and patted my hand. “Rose, you’ve made tremendous progress. Sometimes you just have to deal with the issues as they come.”

My head began to tingle and my peripheral vision faded. I very well knew what that meant. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had visions. They always show me a moment from the future of the person next to me, seen through their eyes.

This time, I found myself in Jonah’s office, sitting in his chair. A man I’d never seen sat in a chair in front of Jonah’s desk. He was middle-aged with a slight pouch on his belly. His hair was light brown and his cheeks were as rosy as Santa Claus’s.

The man leaned forward, his fingers drumming nervously on the arm of his chair, and stared at me with eyes full of desperation. “Do you take confessions?”

My mouth dropped open. “Well, I’m not a Catholic priest who can give you absolution.”

He shook his head and stood. “This was a bad idea. I’m tellin’ ya, there’s trouble afoot in this town and it’s about to get worse.”

The vision faded and I blurted out, “There’s trouble afoot and it’s gettin’ worse.” Just another side effect to my “gift”—I always blurted out part of what I saw. Sometimes it got me in trouble, but Jonah was one of the handful of people who knew about my visions.

“There’s always trouble afoot in your life,” he said with a smile, “but judging from the vacant look you just had, I suspect you had a vision. Of me.”

“Yes.” I told him what I’d seen, including a description of the man. “Do you know who he is? I didn’t recognize him.”

“No, but the description is generic enough it could fit a lot of men. I suspect the important part is the message he gave me. Do you know of any trouble?”

“Hilary’s pregnant with Joe’s baby and he won’t marry her; Neely Kate lost her own babies; someone tried to kill Mason; I’m broke and my furnaces are about to die. There’s all kinds of trouble afoot.”

He laughed. “Yes, but I doubt any of those examples explain the mystery gentleman in my office.”

“True.” I doubted we were going to find an answer right now, so I forced a grin. “Enough about that. I want to hear about your new girlfriend. How’s it going with you and Jessica?”

A blush rose on his cheeks. “It’s the same as the last time you asked, thank you. And I can recognize a deflection when I see one.”

I laughed. “Can’t blame a girl for tryin’.”

“Have you talked to Joe lately?”

My smile fell. I hadn’t talked to Joe since that awful day in the hospital—two weeks ago now. I’d stayed away on purpose. It unsettled me, but when I thought of the man who’d been so strong and supportive and gentle that day, I saw Joe McAllister, the man I’d fallen in love with, not Joe Simmons. “No. Did you know his sister has been spending time in Henryetta?”

“Joe has a sister?”

“Kate. I’m sure you’d remember her if you saw her. She has a short dark bob with blue streaks.”

BOOK: Thirty-Four and a Half Predicaments: Rose Gardner Mystery #7
2.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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