Family Jewels:Rose Gardner Investigations #1(5)

By: Denise Grover Swank

Stumbled into some bigger things was an understatement. Our last off-the-books investigation had landed us in the web of J.R. Simmons, a man of wealth and prestige who’d considered himself above the law. For a long time, he had been. He’d gotten away with murder—literally—because he’d had the connections, money, and deviousness to cover his tracks. I had banded together with James Malcolm, the king of the Fenton County underworld, to bring J.R. down, and Neely Kate hadn’t hesitated to join us. J.R. was dead now—destroyed by his own evil doings rather than by us—but nothing had gone as planned. People had died; lives had been changed in an instant. After last February, I’d vowed to leave danger behind and live a quiet life.

Only Neely Kate was bound and determined to make me live boldly.

“Neely Kate …”

She held up her hands. “You said you’d listen.” When I didn’t answer, she lifted her eyebrows. “Over the last four months, we’ve solved some mysteries that had nothin’ to do with us. Not to mention they were completely harmless.”

“We found a missing garden gnome, a lost dog, and figured out a dispute between two neighbors.” And I couldn’t deny I’d loved every minute of it.

“So why won’t you consider this?” she asked in frustration.

“This is different. From what Marci said, this man thinks his ex-wife is holding his grandmother’s jewelry hostage. It’s not a mystery. It’s a hostage negotiation. You should tell Carter Hale,” I said, referring to our defense attorney friend. “It seems more like a situation for a law shark than for two landscapers.”

“We’re not just two landscapers. We’ve solved mysteries before. You’ve worked with the crime lord of Fenton County, for Pete’s sake. Missing jewelry should be a piece of cake.”

“Neely Kate …”

“Let’s just talk to the guy, okay?” she asked, hope filling her eyes. “We can find out what he wants.”

“He wants us to get his jewelry back. His ex-wife has it. Where’s the investigation? Maybe he expects us to beat the jewelry out of her with our shovels.”

“Please?” She gave me a pout; then her eyes widened. “If it makes you feel better, you can have a vision. See how the meeting goes.”

She had to be really desperate to ask me that.

The visions were a birthright I’d spent my life hating, but I’d come to realize they had their uses. Seeing glimpses of the future had helped me save my life—and my friends’ lives—more times than I could count. Still, there were serious downsides. For one thing, I could only see other people’s futures. For another, I always blurted out whatever I’d just seen, which often put me in embarrassing situations. The visions usually happened spontaneously, but I’d learned that if I forced them regularly, I could sidestep the spontaneous ones. Of course, there were risks—sometimes I forced a vision and saw something I immediately wanted to unsee, like the time I’d witnessed Neely Kate’s first foray back into dating. Although I had no idea when the date would happen, or if it already had, she was going to go all in. Blessedly, the vision had ended before I was burdened with details, and the comment that had leaked out of me afterward had been about her black bra rather than anything truly indecent.

Still, I had no desire to put myself through it again.

I groaned. “Fine.” When she started to get excited, I held up my hands. “We’ll talk to him. That’s all. Then you and I will talk about it and decide where to go from there.”

Her head bobbed as she nodded. “Sure. Of course.”

I’d seen that look before. I suspected she’d already texted Raddy Dyer and accepted the case.

My phone began to ring, and I pulled it from my jeans pocket, surprised to see the initials SM—Skeeter Malcolm—on my screen. I shot Neely Kate a glance before I answered.

“James, I haven’t heard from you in a while.” A couple of weeks, to be exact.

“Lady,” he said, his voice tight. “We’ve got a problem.”

Chapter 2

James Malcolm had become head of the Fenton County criminal underworld six months ago, and ever since he’d assumed that title, people had been trying to snatch it. While I’d met him the previous summer at the pool hall he owned, we hadn’t become better acquainted until November. Several peculiar twists of fate later, I found myself using my visions to help him maintain his position in exchange for his protection of my assistant district attorney boyfriend. My confident, powerful alter ego—the Lady in Black—was born to keep my true identity a secret. I may have worn sexy black dresses, heels, and a veiled black hat to disguise my appearance, but the persona had sunk roots into my soul and changed me. Some days I thought James was the only one who recognized how much.