Family Jewels:Rose Gardner Investigations #1(4)

By: Denise Grover Swank


Marci grabbed her purse and marched the walk of shame to the front door, nearly slipping a couple of times. When she passed us, she held up her head and kept her eyes on the door like she was Anne Boleyn marching to her beheading.

When the door closed, Neely Kate said, “Rose … I had no idea.”

Looking at the mess made me exhausted, and we hadn’t even started to clean it up yet. “We don’t have time to pick this up, but we can’t leave it like this either.” I set Muffy down, then grabbed my phone out of my pocket and called the nursery I co-owned with my sister. Violet was in Texas, recovering from her bone marrow transplant, but we’d found the perfect person to fill in until she came back. Maeve Deveraux answered on the third ring.

“Gardner Sisters Nursery, Maeve speaking. How can I help you?”

Hearing her cheery voice helped ease some of the tension in my back. “Maeve, I was wondering if I could borrow Anna for a bit. Are you too busy to turn her loose?”

“Of course I can spare her, Rose. But she’s really not dressed to be digging.”

“I actually need her in the office.” Then I filled her in on the details.

“Oh, dear. I’ll send her over right away.” Then she paused and lowered her voice. “I haven’t talked to you in over a week. How are you doing?”

“I’m great. Good.” And I was. Mostly. My ex-boyfriend Mason—Maeve’s son—and I had broken up four months ago, and he’d moved back to Little Rock. My heart had been broken, but I’d moved on. Mostly. Even if I still refused to consider dating anyone, much to Neely Kate’s dismay. “How about you?”

It was no secret Maeve had moved from Little Rock to tiny Henryetta to be closer to her only living child. She’d been lonely and eager to feel wanted and needed again. But she’d found a place for herself here, and despite Mason’s decision to leave, she’d stayed. Still, I knew she missed her son something fierce. I’d kept my distance, mostly out of guilt. I couldn’t help wondering if she secretly blamed me for him leaving.

“Good. I’m excited about Violet coming back.” But I heard the wistful tone in her voice.

While we’d only intended for her position to be temporary, she’d been working full-time for the past four months and seemed to love every minute of it. “You know, Violet won’t be back to one hundred percent,” I said. “It occurs to me that we’ll still need help. Would you be willing to stay on part-time?”

“Of course. I’d love to.”

It warmed my heart to make her happy. Maeve had been like the mother I’d always wanted. I missed her. “Well, then that’s settled. You’re an official permanent employee at Gardner Sisters Nursery.”

“I’ll send Anna right over. And Rose … thank you.”

“No, thank you. I have no idea what we would have done without you these last four months.” I hung up and stuffed my phone back into my pocket. “Anna’s on her way.”

“Well, now that this is taken care of …” Neely Kate said, brushing off her hands. “Let’s go talk to Raddy Dyer.”

I held up my hand, blocking the exit. “Hold up. We’re not going anywhere just yet.”

“But Anna’s coming to clean up, which means we can go.”

I narrowed my eyes.

“I’m really sorry about Marci,” Neely Kate said with a sigh.

“Everyone deserves a chance. I’m sorry if you’re in trouble with your aunt for firing her.” It was hard to hold this against my best friend. I’d met her aunt. I probably would have hired Marci too.

She waved it off. “I might get stuck with the burnt ends of Aunt Jackie’s raccoon roast next Christmas, but I’ll manage.”

I almost blurted out, Raccoon roast? But I wisely kept my mouth shut. Neely Kate’s family was one of a kind.

She shuffled her feet and shifted her weight before giving me a hopeful look. “I checked the weather on my phone, and it looks like the rain won’t clear off until this afternoon … which means we have some time to talk to Raddy Dyer.”

And there it was.

I sighed. “Neely Kate—”

“Now, before you say no, let me plead my case.”

“Funny choice of words,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest. “I’m listening.”

Excitement filled her eyes. “You and I have solved cases before—”

I started to protest, but she held up her hand.

“—let me finish.”

“Okay.”

“I know we accidentally stumbled into some bigger things last fall and winter, but we got out of all of them, right?”