Family Jewels:Rose Gardner Investigations #1(2)

By: Denise Grover Swank

We put the shovels into the back of my RBW Landscaping truck, then climbed into the pickup, shivering in our semi-drenched clothes.

“We’re not givin’ up, are we?” Neely Kate asked, incredulous. But her tone also held a hint of guilt. She was the one who’d insisted on hiring Marci despite the foreboding fact that the girl couldn’t fill in the address of the house where she’d lived for the last eighteen years with her parents on her job application. Not to mention the way she’d filled in the “Date of last job” blank with “last night with Bobby Hixler,” mistaking “job” for something else entirely.

Being the bigger person, I’d held back my I-told-you-sos.

I was polishing those up for when I might need them later.

“Of course we’re not giving up.” I turned the key and the truck engine started, hitting us with a blast of cold air that made me shiver.

Neely Kate fumbled with the air conditioning knobs to turn off the air as I pulled away from the curb.

“We can come back when it blows over,” Neely Kate said. She flipped down the visor and looked in the mirror as she took her long blonde hair out of the messy bun she’d put it up in before we’d started digging. She gave it a fluff, then ran a finger under her eye to wipe away a mascara smudge. While Neely Kate had learned a lot about the landscaping business since I’d hired her at the first of the year, digging in the dirt was one of the few jobs she detested and avoided at all costs. “There’s a reason I moved away from Grannie’s farm, Rose,” she’d say, wrinkling her nose. “To get away from dirt and cow manure.”

I sighed. “Let’s get some coffee and look at how we can shuffle our schedule around and still get everything done.”

Neely Kate snatched her pink sparkly purse from the floor board, then removed a tube of concealer and dabbed dots under her eyes. “You want to go by the office?”

“Yeah. I want to check on Muffy.”

“Afterward, why don’t we stop by the new coffee shop? I hear it makes a delicious white mocha.”

I wasn’t sure a town the size of Henryetta could accommodate two coffee shops, but so far The Daily Grind had attracted a flock of courthouse employees and city police, as well as foot traffic from the downtown shoppers and store owners. It helped that they carried pastries from Dena’s Bakery, the best thing to hit Henryetta in five years. Besides, The Daily Grind’s competition was on the edge of town, close to a newer neighborhood and a condo complex. Those residents tended to avoid downtown anyway.

I parked in front of our office and grabbed an umbrella from under my seat.

She held out the lip gloss. “Here. You need this.”

I gave her a hard look. “Why would I put on lip gloss to get coffee?”

Neely Kate groaned. “Rose …” She dragged my name out like it pained her to do so. “You’ll never find a man if you don’t start putting more effort into your appearance.”

I laughed. “You think lip gloss is going to make me look better?” I knew what I looked like—no makeup, muddy jeans, my dark hair up in a ponytail. “And besides, it’s ridiculous to put on makeup when I’ll just sweat it off in ten minutes.”

I could see my dog Muffy in the window jumping up on the glass in her excitement. She weighed about eight pounds, but that didn’t stop her from trying to break through. I hated leaving her alone out at my farm, so I brought her to work most days and even to job sites. Neely Kate and Bruce Wayne had dubbed Muffy RBW Landscaping’s mascot, and lately, Neely Kate had taken to shopping for dog costumes online. Muffy was wearing one now—something that made her look like she’d been attacked by a giant white daisy. That alone could have been the reason she looked so frantic. Or maybe she was freaked out by the storm, the reason I’d left her behind.

But one look inside the window revealed the real source of her distress.

“Neely Kate, I thought you fired Marci.”

“What are you talkin’ about?” she asked, digging in her purse. “I did.”

“Then what is she doing in our office?”

“What?” Neely Kate screeched, leaning forward to peer inside the windows. “I fired her. You heard me.”

“Well, she’s in there now. Let’s go find out why,” I said as I hopped out of the truck.

Neely Kate followed me. I opened the previously locked office door, and Neely Kate slammed into my back when I came to an abrupt halt.

Muffy stood on her back legs, and her front paws scratched frantically at my legs.

I gasped as I bent down to scoop her up. “What in the Sam Hill …”