Family Jewels:Rose Gardner Investigations #1(8)

By: Denise Grover Swank


I turned to Neely Kate, my mouth gaping. The look on her face told me she already knew about Raddy’s trouble with the law. Great.

“Innocent until proven guilty, Joe,” she said.

His gaze held hers and the muscle on his jaw twitched. “Stay away from Radcliffe Dyer.”

Huh. This was a change. Joe was usually barking the orders at me. I couldn’t say I minded one bit that he was barking them at my best friend instead.

She lifted her hands in surrender, and a soft smile covered her face. “I hear you.”

“Oh, I know you hear me,” he said in exasperation. “I’m asking you to please do as I request.”

She rolled her eyes. “Joe …”

“What can I get for you?” the girl at the counter asked. We’d been talking so long we’d made it to the front of the line. The clerk, who didn’t look more than twenty, had on a bright, cheerful green apron embroidered with the name Bernadette.

Neely Kate took a deep breath, then said, “I want a medium white mocha, but I want it warm—not too hot and definitely not cold. And instead of three shots of white chocolate syrup, I’d like two. Add a shot of raspberry syrup for the third shot.” Neely Kate paused. “You got that so far?”

“Got it.” Bernadette’s shoulder-length brown hair brushed against her shoulders as she wrote the instructions on the cup.

When she started to set the cup down next to the espresso machine, Neely Kate stopped her. “There’s more.”

Bernadette’s face lifted in surprise. “Okay.”

“What kind of soy milk do you have?”

When did she start drinking soy milk?

The owner, Vance Rankin, a man in his forties, leaned around from behind the espresso machine. “You know good and well what brand of soy milk we use,” he growled. “It’s the same damn stuff we used yesterday.”

Neely Kate gave him a look of annoyance. “Then I want almond milk.”

Bernadette still seemed unfazed. “Anything else?”

“No. That’s it.”

“I’ll take a medium nonfat latte,” I said, suddenly feeling boring compared to Neely Kate.

Joe reached over my shoulder to hand Bernadette some cash. “And I’ll have a large Americano. It’s all on my tab.”

Neely Kate started to protest, but a harsh look from Joe stopped her.

It didn’t take a genius to tell this was about more than coffee. The last thing Neely Kate wanted was to be taken for a mooch. Joe and his sister Kate came from the infamous Simmons family, which had—up until recently—meant money, power, and prestige. So when Joe abruptly left town in February, Neely Kate had worried it was because of her, that he’d thought his new little sister would want a paycheck. He’d since explained himself—he’d gone home to settle his father’s estate and had only kept away from Neely Kate for so long out of his own shame. But it was going to take her a long time to get over it.

“Thanks, Joe,” I said as we sidled out of line.

He shot me a worried look and whispered in my ear, low enough that Neely Kate couldn’t hear, “It comes with strings.”

The mere fact that he’d whispered it insinuated that it involved my best friend. No doubt he’d tell me in good time.

“Okay.”

Joe took a step back, then addressed us both. “How’s your new employee working out? It’s your cousin, right?”

Neely Kate groaned. “Let’s just say the Rivers branches of my family tree hang so low they’re takin’ root.”

“So, not good?” he asked dryly.

“This is a story best told over a beer,” I said. “Want to come over for dinner tonight?”

His eyebrows lifted in surprise, and Neely Kate shot me a questioning look. I’d mostly left him alone since his return to town. For one, he was my ex-boyfriend and we’d found a shaky truce. I didn’t want to chance it, especially since he held a stake in my nursery—another long story. And two, Joe and Neely Kate had been finding their way toward a new family dynamic, and I’d tried to give them space. But if Joe was going to have a real relationship with Neely Kate, and she was living with me, I needed to make sure he felt welcome at my farmhouse.

“Sure …” he said with hesitation. Then he grinned. “Are you cooking or are we having deli sandwiches?”

I lightly smacked his arm. “Just for that, I’ll burn your portion.”

He grinned and my heart lightened at the happiness I saw on his face. It had been hard-won. “I’ll bring the beer,” he said. “What time?”

“How about seven?” I asked as the owner handed me a cup.