Family Secrets (A Darcy Sweet Cozy Mystery #8)



First published in Australia by South Coast Publishing, May 2014.
Copyright K.J. Emrick (2014)


This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and locations portrayed in this book and the names herein are fictitious.  Any similarity to or identification with the locations, names, characters or history of any person, product or entity is entirely coincidental and unintentional.


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Chapter One


Darcy Sweet rode in the front seat of Jon Tinker’s police car in silence.  The red light on the dash flashed and spun, slicing through the shadows under the trees around them with menace and foreboding. 

They had driven a few miles outside the main part of town
already, to a part of Misty Hollow where the roads were more like one lane dirt paths that didn’t go anywhere.  On a map, they would be driving on Woodbridge Lane.  In reality they were slowing down every so often to make sure the car fit between towering oak trees or pulling over onto the soft, grassy shoulders to avoid deep ruts.  It was a pretty area to take a walk in, and Darcy had taken rides through here on her bicycle dozens of times when she had a few hours with nothing else to do. 

It was evening now, and sunset was coming, and the area got creepy in the dark.
  Everywhere that Darcy looked, tendrils of mist rose up from the ground, taunting her, mixing between blood red and ghostly pale as Jon’s emergency light continued to flash.  Because of her special abilities, she could see and know things that most people couldn’t.  She could talk to the dead, for instance.  They could talk to her too, even though there were times when she wished they wouldn’t.  So she knew what she was seeing through the car window.  The mists that had gave the town its name a few centuries ago always appeared when something bad had happened.

Jon had gotten a phone call while they were at home, after they had just returned from
Ryansburg where Marla the Misty Hollow librarian had been murdered.  Now they were on their way to another crime scene to investigate someone else’s death.

Darcy grimaced at the
reflection staring back at her in the glass.  She really needed to rethink her life.  Her green eyes blinked agreement at her.

She and Jon had been in the middle of a very important conversation
when he got that call.  She bit her lip, thinking back on how she had gotten the nerve up to ask Jon to marry her.  Yup.  The whole scene played out in her memory, and it was like something from a romantic comedy.  Except for his answer.  Nothing to laugh at there.

“You haven’t said two words to me since we left the hous
e,” Jon said to her suddenly. 

“Yes I have,” she said, sitting up, “I said ‘turn h
ere’ at the last intersection.”

He sno
rted.  It wasn’t quite a laugh.

Up ahead, she could see
several parked cars, and the flashing red and blue strobes of an ambulance.

“We need to talk, Darcy,” he said to her, for some
thing like the fourth time.

She kept her gaze carefully out the window, on the scene they were approaching, as she answered him.  “I couldn’t agree more. 
That's what we were doing at home, if you remember.  We can’t exactly talk now, though.”  Jon stopped the car, parking up on the front lawn of a house surrounded by yellow tape and emergency vehicles.  “For now," she said, "let’s go see what happened.”

He caught her elbow as she was opening the door.  “Darcy, you need to know a few thing
s first.  Like why we’re here.”

“We’re here because someone died.”  He gave her arm back but then he just sat there, like he wanted to say something and couldn’t figure out
how.  “Oh, for Pete’s sake, Jon.  Tell me later.  Let’s just go.”

She got out of the c
ar, stepping into the warm evening.  A sudden breeze stirred her hair and rustled in the grass where last Autumn’s dead leaves still hid.  In spite of the gentle warmth early spring had brought to Misty Hollow, a shiver climbed up Darcy’s spine.

The house was the source of that chill.  Darcy was looking up at it now, a hulking shape of angles and gabled roofs, set back from Woodbridge Lane by a good hundred feet.  Spotlights washed harsh light across the dull gray siding and the shuttered windows.  A tall chimney of large, oddly shaped stones climbed up high above the peak of the roof.  With her abilities she could sense more than just what her eyes and ears told her.  Something bad had happened here.

In a second story window, the only one with the shutters pushed aside, Darcy saw a woman standing and watching.  She was tall and elderly, her white hair done into a tight braid over the left shoulder of her black dress.  Her expression was grim.

As Darcy watched
, the woman faded and then disappeared.  Darcy recognized her.  It was the Widow Chartrand.  Her ghost, anyway.

“What is it?” Jon asked, following her line of sight
without seeing anything.  “Was there something up there?  Did you sense something?”

“Yes,” she said, lowering her voice so that none of the police officers or volunteer ambulance people could hear.  “Jon, what happened here?”

“The Widow Chartrand was killed,” he said, “like I told you on the way over.”

She looked up a
t him, into his handsome face, with his blue eyes in shadow and dark hair ruffled by the breeze.  His expression was tight.  Jon knew what Darcy’s abilities let her do.  He might not understand it all, and she knew how some of it still disturbed him, but he had moved well past the fear and misunderstanding a lot of people had.

That was one of the things that let her know how perfect they were for each ot
her.  Marriage had seemed like the natural progression of their relationship.

Until she had actually asked him to marry her.

Looking back at the house now, the feeling of cold dread crept up her spine again.  She caught a strand of her long dark hair and absently coiled it around a finger.  “I know she was murdered, Jon.  But there’s something else.  I can’t tell what it is, but there’s something.”

With a faraway look on his face Jon took her by the hand.  “There’s a lot going on here, Darcy. 
None of it good.”

“Well?” she said.  “What is it?  Tell me.”

For just a moment he looked like he was going to answer the question.  Then he pressed his lips tighter together and nodded toward the house.  “Come on.  It will be easier if I show you.  Let’s go inside.”

Jon nodded to several of the people they passed.  Most of the police force was here, by the look of it.  They waved or nodded to Darcy as well.  She was on a first name basis with most of them by now.  Not just because her sister
Grace was a detective here just like Jon was.  It was more because she had helped with a lot of the major investigations the police had handled. 

Murder was becoming
an all too frequent occurrence here in town.

Daleson saw the two of them walking up the driveway as he came down from the house.  He waved to them, taking off his chief's cap and scratching at his round, balding head.  Joe was a stocky man with a burly and muscular physique who stood a good foot shorter than Jon.  He was quick to smile and always ready with a joke.  Today, he wasn't smiling.

Resettling his cap as Jon and Darcy got
closer, he shook his head, his face grim.  "Nasty bit of business.  Everyone liked Vivica Chartrand.  I can't figure why anyone would want her dead."  He looked down his nose at Darcy.  "Been Police Chief in this town for fourteen years, Miss Sweet.  Never had this many murders to deal with."

Darcy blinked.  She got the impression he was blaming her, somehow.  That was crazy, wasn't it?  "I'm only here to offer my help, Chief," she said to him defensively.

He nodded curtly.  "We're happy to have it, too.  You've helped us out any number of times, Miss Sweet, and I'm grateful for it.  I just wish we didn't need your kind of…help."

There it was again.  Darcy sighed.  She was used to people thinking her abilities were somehow bad, or evil, so the Chief's attitude was nothing new.  Her true friends in town never said anything about it, but she knew t
hat even they were a little skittish when it came to Darcy talking to ghosts or knowing things that no one else could.

Her Great Aunt Millie had always told her that everyone had their own gifts, their own
abilities, that made them special.  Difference was, Millie would say, no one understood a truly powerful gift except those who had it.

"Who found her?" Jon asked, meaning
Vivica Chartrand.

"Helen Nelson.  She came looking for Ms.
Chartrand when she missed the town board meeting this afternoon.  Not like our town treasurer to miss a meeting.  Not without a good excuse.  I remember one time she showed up with a massive head cold.  She couldn't even keep her head up."

Darcy put her hand up over her mouth
.  Poor Helen.  Darcy knew she and Vivica Chartrand and the other members of the town council were all friends.  This must have been hard for her.  "Is she still here?" Darcy asked.

The Chief shook his head.  "No.  I sent her home with one of my officers.  She was upset. 
Understandably so."  He checked his watch.  "The coroner's people should be here soon.  Jon, why don't you and Miss Sweet get on up to the scene before they do and see what you make of it.  Then you can come down to my car.  We've got our suspect there."

Jon started to say something, but the Chief cut him off.  "Oh, and by the way. 
I have a letter sitting on my desk from Oak Hollow's Police Chief.  Plan on sending him a reply in the morning.  I'd like to know what to say to him."  He arched an eyebrow, waiting for Jon's answer.

Darcy watched
the two of them, knowing she was missing something important.  Finally Jon sighed and shifted his weight.  "Can I let you know in the morning, Chief?  I'd like to get started on this."

The chief nodded. 
"Fine.  I can't wait too long, though, or they'll think the answer is no."

He turned and walked away, grumbling to himself as he went.

"What was that about?" Darcy asked Jon after the chief was gone.

"I told you we had a lot to talk about."  He looked tired, and it was more than just the shadows
of the approaching night.  "Come on.  Let's get up to the house.  One thing at a time, right?"

Chapter Two


At the door to the house a female officer stood. 
Her name plate said "Partridge" and Darcy remembered her first name was Laura.  She nodded to Jon as they stepped up onto the wide front porch.  "The newspaper has already gotten ahold of this one, Jon," she said.  "The Chief was fielding calls from Watson just before you got here."

Brianna Watson was a reporter for the local newspaper, The
Chronicle.  It was one of the state's oldest papers and had a reputation for being fair and honest in its reporting.  That was before Brianna Watson, though.  Now it had a reputation for digging up dirt on anyone and everyone.  Darcy had seen Jon ball the paper up some mornings and stuff it in the trashcan after reading some of Watson's articles.

me know if any reporters show up, all right?" Jon told her.

They went inside, entering a kitchen that was twice the size of the one at Darcy's house, furnished with white painted cabinets and stainless steel
appliances.  The lights had all been turned on.  Darcy almost wished they hadn't.

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