Authors: Connie Shelton
Tags: #romantic suspense, #christmas, #amateur sleuth, #female sleuth, #wedding, #series books, #mystery series, #connie shelton, #charlie parker series, #wedding mysteries
Weddings Can Be Murder
Charlie Parker Mystery #16
© 2016 Connie Shelton
Weddings Can Be Murder
Published by Secret Staircase Books, an
Columbine Publishing Group
PO Box 416, Angel Fire, NM 87710
Copyright © 2016 Connie Shelton
All rights reserved. No part of this book may
be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by
an information storage and retrieval system without permission in
writing from the publisher.
This book is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places and incidents are either the product of the
author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely
coincidental. Although the author and publisher have made every
effort to ensure the accuracy and completeness of information
contained in this book we assume no responsibility for errors,
inaccuracies, omissions, or any inconsistency herein. Any slights
of people, places or organizations are unintentional.
Book layout and design by Secret Staircase
Cover image © Sebastian Czapnik
Cover silhouettes © Ayutaka
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Vacations Can Be Murder
Partnerships Can Be Murder
Small Towns Can Be Murder
Memories Can Be Murder
Honeymoons Can Be Murder
Reunions Can Be Murder
Competition Can Be Murder
Balloons Can Be Murder
Obsessions Can Be Murder
Gossip Can Be Murder
Stardom Can Be Murder
Phantoms Can Be Murder
Buried Secrets Can Be Murder
Legends Can Be Murder
Weddings Can Be Murder
Holidays Can Be Murder - a Christmas
The Woodcarver’s Secret
The first Saturday in December was going to
be the happiest day of my brother’s life. Ron and my husband,
Drake, were all tuxedoed up and presumably picking up the flowers
on their way to the chapel. My matron-of-honor dress hung on a hook
on the closet door, all snug and clean in its garment bag. Victoria
had helped me choose it but had not jammed her own opinions down my
throat. I’ve seen so many disastrous, puff-sleeved, low-waisted
bridesmaid dresses in every color from baby pink to violent purple
that I truly appreciated it when she let me pick one that might
serve double duty for the upcoming holiday season—in case we
actually got invited to a dressy soirée. My deep burgundy, knee
length dress was demure enough for a wedding and low-cut enough for
a party. I picked up the accessory bag containing my shoes, jewelry
and makeup, mentally running through my to-do list as I called
Freckles in from the backyard, hustled her into her doggy crate and
headed for the front door.
Pick up Victoria at her house, arrange both
of our dresses in as unwrinkled condition as possible in the back
seat of my Jeep Cherokee and get us to the chapel with time to
spare for putting them on and applying finishing touches to hair
and makeup. In my case, that last part would consist of an extra
swipe of lipstick and hair-spraying any errant strands from the
complicated up-do that my local hairdresser had been kind enough to
create at eight o’clock this morning. Believe me, I felt decidedly
overdressed walking out of there.
The noon ceremony with approximately fifty
guests would be followed by a very classy luncheon at the country
club, an afternoon of champagne and dancing, and a quick exit by
the bride and groom in time to catch their plane to the east coast.
Ron had confided that he’d told Victoria only to pack for warm
weather. Their destination was a surprise for her, but I knew he’d
booked them a room at a very chichi hotel in Miami with a side
excursion to Disney World because he truly did believe the ads that
promised it’s way more fun without the kids. Besides, his three
boys are already beyond the kiddie-ride phase and well into the
blasé, you-can’t-impress-me stage.
I stashed my things in the back of the Jeep
and gave a final stare at the house. Had I locked the back door?
Yes. The front door? Fairly sure I did. No sense worrying about the
iron—I don’t do ironing. The toaster had long since been put away
and the coffee maker emptied when I got back from my hair
appointment. Ron had been a nervous wreck for two days but
Drake—bless him—was a model of organization. It’s what makes him an
extraordinary pilot and the logical choice as Ron’s best man. Our
brother Paul, his wife Lorraine and their two kids had stayed the
night next door at Elsa Higgins’s house, and they would give our
elderly neighbor a ride to the ceremony. With a houseful of
disorganized house guests, I had a feeling my surrogate grandmother
would be the happiest of all of us to see this weekend to its
The Jeep cranked to life with a little
reluctance and I wondered if she was going to make it through
another winter. The night temperatures were already dipping below
freezing and the old girl was getting a little testy about that. I
pulled my wool dress coat more tightly around me as I waited for
the heater to thaw my toes.
Victoria’s house sits less than two miles
away, a cute little three-bedroom bungalow on the fringes of
downtown. Convenient to Ron’s work, it’s one of the reasons they’ve
decided to move into her place rather than his—that, and the fact
that he’s been in a dumpy, depressing bachelor apartment in the
northeast heights ever since his divorce from Bernadette, I don’t
know how many years ago. My brother is hardworking, loyal, and
kind; he is not a homemaker. The dreary apartment doesn’t look a
whole lot different from the day he moved in.
Victoria, on the other hand, has put all her
professional interior decorator skills to work on her place, so
even though it’s an older home she has added all the modern
conveniences without sacrificing the original ambiance. Last I
heard, Ron had moved quite a bit of his stuff over there and was
ready to vacate his apartment by the end of the month. Pretty much
everyone thought he couldn’t leave the old dump a moment too
I drove up Lomas, noting that the Saturday
morning drivers all seemed to be moving sluggishly along the frosty
streets. This was our first real cold snap of the season and I
supposed none of us were really ready to say goodbye to the
gorgeous autumnal blue skies and Indian summer temperatures we’d
experienced all the way through Thanksgiving. I turned off Lomas
and took a couple more turns into Vic’s 1950s neighborhood where,
thanks to a recent revival of interest in Albuquerque’s downtown
area, the homes had undergone a wave of renovation and renewal.
Tired facades had been updated, withered landscaping replaced and
updated for greater curb appeal. All in all, it was a charming
little area where anyone would want to live.
Stopping in front of her mushroom-brown
house with its dark chocolate trim, I started to tap my horn before
realizing how rude that would be. Besides having a lot to carry,
she most certainly had a zillion things on her mind and would
appreciate a hand with some of the tasks. I braced myself against
the chilly breeze and climbed out of the Jeep.
Boxwood hedges lined the flagstone path that
meandered with a charming curve to the front door. The drapes
appeared closed, but beyond the transom window the entryway light
was on. Victoria had probably been up since before dawn putting the
final touches on whatever it was that perfectionist brides put
touches on. I’m not a fusser and my own wedding had been thrown
together very last-minute, so I have no clue about a lot of this
stuff. I pressed the doorbell.
Not a sound came from inside. She must be
back in her bedroom. With a shiver against the breeze, I buttoned
my coat up to the throat and hit the bell again. This time I
distinctly heard it echo off the hardwood floors and through the
spacious living room. I let a full two minutes go by. Maybe she was
in the shower. After awhile, though, I began to wonder. She knew I
was coming. She’d been very specific about the schedule, allowing
time to get to the chapel and dress for the ceremony. I was not a
minute late, but I wasn’t early either. I began to feel slightly
irritated as I reached for the doorknob.
The solid wood door swung inward without a
“Vic? It’s Charlie. You ready?”
From the basement I could hear the furnace
running but a chill breeze skimmed my ankles. I closed the door and
took a few steps into the entry hall, reminding myself that I’d
left my Jeep running out on the street.
“Vic? Hurry up, time to get going,” I called
out. My voice ricocheted back at me.
With one ear tuned to the idling Jeep and
the other to the sounds within the house, I walked into the living
room. A puddle of white silk caught my attention first. Victoria’s
wedding dress, lying in a heap on the floor. Something was very
I took a shaky breath and called her name
again, this time with a definite waver in my voice. No
Okay, Charlie, stop and think.
could be a lot of reasons for this. She’s on the phone, she ran to
a neighbor’s place for something, she realized Ron would forget the
flowers and went to pick them up herself. But she would never leave
her beautiful wedding gown lying there on the floor. I’d gone with
her to the designer’s shop to choose that dress. With Victoria’s
usual flair for the chic, she’d chosen this one because it so
perfectly fit both her figure and her style. She looked like a
sophisticated princess in it. She loved this dress.
I wandered over to the pile of white and
picked it up, looking for the hanger. That’s when the disarray in
the rest of the room caught my attention. The overstuffed sofa,
normally at a precise angle to the fireplace, sat off-kilter.
Brightly colored pillows, always neatly plumped at the corners of
the couch, had fallen to the floor and an arrangement of seashells
from the coffee table lay strewn across the blue and cream area
rug. A sharp odor, somewhat familiar, hung in the air.
My heart went into overdrive. I dropped the
white gown onto the sofa.
“Vic!” I yelled, racing down the hall toward
No sign of her in the boys’ room or the
front one she used as her home office. The master bedroom showed a
neatly made bed, a makeup case on the dresser with her white satin
shoes sitting nearby, and a packed airline suitcase with the lid up
just waiting for whatever last-minute things she intended to pack.
Both bathroom doors stood open; neither held a wisp of recent steam
or a hint of soap or shampoo scent.
Down the hall again, I went into the kitchen
where there was no sign of breakfast, not that Victoria wouldn’t
have immediately cleaned up after herself. I did find the source of
the chill I’d felt earlier. The back door stood partway open.
My pulse pounded in my head as I reached for
my cell phone. But I’d left my purse in the Jeep which, given the
city’s notoriety for missing vehicles, was an incredibly stupid
move on my part. I ran out front and yanked open the driver’s door,
sliding into my seat and grabbing for the purse on the floor of the
passenger side. My hands shook as I tried to tap numbers to reach
Drake. Two misdials before I finally got it right. I took a deep
breath as his phone rang.