Read Lyndsey Cole - Lily Bloom 05 - Hidden by the Hydrangeas Online
Authors: Lyndsey Cole
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Flower Shop - Vermont
The ride to Pine Meadows where Maria Santos lived
was about fifteen miles away from Lily’s shop. Fortunately, Daisy agreed to stay at Beautiful Blooms until she got back and somehow Kari finagled her way into Lily’s minivan to tag along with Lily and Rosie. They rode in silence for a while but Lily sensed that Kari might share some more information with a little bit of prodding.
“How do you like living at the Black Horse Farm?”
“It’s okay, my mom and I have a cute little apartment at the back of the house.”
“Is that how you met Gabe?” Lily could see that Kari glanced at her from the corner of her eyes.
“He didn’t murder Amber if that’s what you’re hinting about.”
“How can you be so sure if you stayed at Amber’s apartment when Gabe left with Amber?” Lily kept her eyes straight ahead so as not to intimidate Amber.
Kari swiveled in her seat. “I didn’t stay at Amber’s apartment. I went too. We dropped Amber off at the Inn and Gabe and I went back to Amber’s apartment together.”
“Kari, I don’t believe you. I think you’re trying to give Gabe an alibi. If you lie to me it’s one thing, but if you lie to the police, you’ll be in a lot of trouble. Do you think he might have killed Amber?”
She buried her face in her hands, sobbing. “I don’t know what to think. All he said to me was that he dropped her off and went back to the farm.”
“Was there actually a text from an L.T.? Is that true?”
“Yes, that’s true, and there’s more.” Kari looked out the window before saying anything else. “Amber said she expected to be getting some money.”
“Money? From who?”
“I don’t know, maybe whoever sent the text?” Kari pointed to the next road. “Take a right here, that’s the road Amber’s mom lives on.”
Lily parked in front of a brown shingled ranch with a small lawn and several ornamental trees planted in front. “Mrs. Santos doesn’t know we’re coming, I hope she’s home.”
“Her car is there.” Kari pointed to a small blue sedan.
A petite dark haired woman answered the door. Her puffy face and red eyes told her whole sad story. Kari rushed past Lily and held her in a tight embrace.
“I can’t believe what happened to Amber. I’m so sorry I couldn’t keep her safe,” Kari sobbed.
Maria stroked K
ari’s hair. “It’s not your fault. Amber was determined to live life her way.” Maria led Kari into the tidy house as Lily followed.
“Maria, this is my friend, Lily Bloom. She’s trying to figure out what happened.”
Maria tensed. “I’ve already talked to the police.”
“Of course, I’m not with the police. I’m just trying to help a friend of a friend
,” Lily said as she tenderly put her hand on Maria’s arm.
Maria gestured to the couch. “Sit down and tell me about your friend.”
Lily had to be careful not to reveal the secret Iris had told her about Lance and Maria. “My mother’s husband, Walter Nash, is very close to the prime suspect, Lance Turner. Walter is positive that Lance is innocent. Do you know if Amber knew Mr. Turner?”
Maria suddenly stood up
. “I’ll get us some tea.”
Kari followed. “I’ll help.”
Lily looked around the room at the many photos of a young girl that Lily assumed must be Amber. She walked around to get a closer look at the photos. Amber as a young girl with a big smile and long black hair waiting for a school bus. Amber riding a pony. And one photo that Lily looked very closely at—Amber standing with a beautiful horse with Lance Turner in the background, blurry but recognizable.
The sound of a tray being set
down on the small coffee table made Lily turn around. Maria’s eyes looked behind Lily to the photo she had been studying. “That’s one of my favorite photos of Amber. She’d just won a blue ribbon in her first dressage competition.” She poured tea into the three cups. “Everything about horses is expensive and I couldn’t afford it after Amber got the riding bug.”
Lily sat down across from Maria, letting her talk about her daughter without interrupting.
“Amber applied and was accepted into a program that helped talented young riders continue even if they didn’t have the means. Lance was the president of the program and he took a personal interest in her ability. He knew horses and he recognized her equestrian gift.” She sipped her tea. “So, yes, Amber knew Lance but it wasn’t anything beyond him helping her financially to continue riding.” Maria held out a plate of cookies for Lily and Kari to help themselves.
“When she turned sixteen, she started to get sucked in with the wrong crowd and she stopped riding. It wasn’t cool with her new friends. I didn’t understand what was happening
, and before I could blink, it had gone too far. Once I realized she was spiraling downhill, we moved here and Lance came to visit to try to talk to her. That didn’t go well at all. She stormed out in a fury and Lance stayed to console me.” Tears threatened to spill over Maria’s eyes.
Kari stood up, unable to sit still any longer. “Amber told me she would be getting some money soon. Was Mr. Turner giving her money?”
“No, he never gave her money, he just paid for her riding lessons. He didn’t kill Amber. It had to be someone else.”
“How can you be so sure?”
Maria’s chest heaved as she let out a deep sigh. “I know because he was here with me. He won’t tell the police though because he doesn’t want Emma to find out. He would come over to try to help Amber
, but, well, one thing led to another. We never intended for our friendship to become any more than it was.” Her head fell into her hands.
Kari’s eyes were huge. “I thought Amber was having an affair with Mr. Turner, but it was you. Did Amber know?”
Maria nodded. “She had just found out. We were very careful, I’m sure no one else could have known.”
Kari was pacing around the room
. “Maybe she was planning to blackmail Lance. Maybe that’s where the money was coming from.”
“Why would she do that after all the help he gave her?”
“Anger. She had a lot of anger but I never knew why,” Kari said.
Lily stood up. “Thank you for telling us, Maria. At least now I can focus on someone else.” Lily and Kari hugged Maria before walking back to Lily’s car.
“I’m glad you came with me, Kari. I don’t think Maria would have told me all that otherwise.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“Let’s get you back to the Black Horse Farm and I’d like to have a chat with Gabe. He always disappears whenever I try to talk to him but he needs to tell us what he knows.”
Lily parked in front of the barn. It was peaceful and quiet but Lily’s nerves were all on high alert. “Kari, how about you go let your mother know what’s going on, I’m going to look for Gabe in the barn.”
“No buts, I want to talk to him alone.”
Lily walked into the barn, letting her eyes adjust to the darkness while Rosie sniffed around outside. At first, the barn seemed empty until Lily saw Emma walk out of the tack room. “Emma. How are you feeling?”
Emma threw the saddle up on Willow, then turned toward Lily. “Better, just feeling very foolish for mixing up my meds. What are you doing here, can I help you with something?”
“Probably. I’m looking for Gabe. I need to ask him some questions.”
She tightened the cinch on the saddle. “He’s out on the trails someplace. I don’t know what he’s been up to, riding all the time. I think he’s avoiding me.”
“When will he be back?”
“That’s a good question. Listen, you can take Willow and see if you can find him. Just follow the trails that Nick took you on.”
Lily swallowed and ran her fingers through her hair. “I don’t know, I’ve only been on the trails once.”
“Willow knows the trails inside and out, you won’t get lost. I wanted to give her a little exercise and take her for a ride but I’m still feeling a little tired.” Emma faced Lily. “You’ll be doing me a big favor if you take her out.”
“Well, okay, as long as you think she’ll be fine for me.” Rosie came into the barn and found Lily. “I have my dog with me too in case anything happens.”
Emma led Willow out of the barn and gave Lily a hand up into the saddle. “Have fun and good luck finding Gabe.”
Lily turned Willow onto the trail and walked at a comfortable pace. The rhythm was soothing and her riding confidence came back quickly. Rosie ran ahead chasing shadows and sniffing, but never straying very far. Rounding a bend, Lily was surprised to see a horse trotting toward her. Stopping Willow on the side of the trail, she waited. “Gabe. Just the person I was hoping to find.”
Gabe pulled Midnight to a stop next to Willow. “Why are you riding Willow?”
“Emma was going to take her out but wasn’t feeling well so she asked me to. Listen, can I ask you a couple of questions?”
“You can ask, but I might not answer.”
Lily thought that was fair but was going to work her butt off to get all the answers she wanted. “Emma said that you were out riding for most of the morning after Amber was murdered. Where did you go?”
“Emma said that, huh? Well
, maybe you’d better ask Emma. She’s the one that keeps sending me out on a wild goose chase. At least I found Abby’s collar for her today.” Gabe held up a dark leather collar with several tags jingling. “I don’t know what the big deal is, she could easily go out and buy a new collar, but no, she had to have this one. I think she just likes to order me around. Enjoy your ride.” Gabe touched Midnight’s side with his boot and they galloped off leaving Lily in a cloud of dust.
“That wasn’t any help, was it Rosie? Let’s finish the loop anyway. I could get into doing this every day.”
They passed the Stone House Inn, continuing on the second half of the trail that would take them back to the farm. As they got near the spot where she thought Amber’s body had been found, she carefully scanned all the bushes. A colorful piece of fabric glistened as the sun hit it. She slid off of Willow’s back and pulled the fabric off the bush. She remembered something as she held the cloth.
Dialing Ryan’s number, she left a message for him to meet her at the Black Horse Farm.
As she turned back toward Willow, a big tractor trailer zoomed by on the road, spooking the horse. Willow reared up, knocking into Lily and sending her to the ground. Willow, riderless, took off at a gallop.
Lily had no clue why she was looking up into the worried eyes of Ryan Steele. Or why it felt like rocks were poking into her back.
“Lily, Lily, can you hear me?”
She tried to get up but his strong arms held her down. “Stay where you are for now. What happened? Did you get thrown from the horse?”
Lily turned her head to the left and right. She was lying on a trail. Rosie managed to give Lily’s face a nice, wet dog kiss.
“I guess so. I’m not really sure.” She raised her hand to wipe the dog slobber from her cheek and noticed the fabric in her hand. The memories flooded
back and she sat up so suddenly. Ryan didn’t have a chance to stop her.
“We have to get back to the farm. She held the fabric out to show him.”
“Lily, I think you had a concussion, you need to go to the emergency room.”
“No. Take me to the farm. I know what happened.”
Ryan helped Lily get in his car and Rosie jumped in next to her. “I remember talking to Gabe before I got hurt. He said something that all makes sense now. When we get to the barn, call Lance’s phone.”
“I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, but if it makes you happy, we’ll stop at the farm first.”
They pulled in just as Lance and Nick were getting out of the black SUV. Anna and Kari saw Lily and ran right over. “Are you alright. We were all scared to death when Willow returned without you.”
Lily looked at Rya
n. “What are they talking about?”
“I had just gotten here when Willow showed up without you
, and Rosie ran up to me about a minute later. She barked and turned around running back up the road so I followed her with my siren going. She led me right to you.”
Lily looked around and saw Emma walking out of the barn.
Lily whispered to Ryan, “Call Lance’s phone when we walk into the barn. Trust me on this.”
Emma hugged Lance
and then saw Lily standing nearby. “Are you alright. I’m so sorry about Willow. She does spook sometimes when she’s near the road. I forgot to warn you about that.”
“No harm done.” Lily put her hand on the back of her head. “Just a little bump starting, nothing permanent. Is Willow okay? Can I go in and see her?”
Emma led the way into the barn while Ryan stayed behind at the back of the group.
Willow was standing calmly on the crossties while Gabe brushed her down. Abby came out of the tack room happy to see so many visitors
and Lily leaned over to pat her. “This is an interesting scarf Abby’s wearing for a collar.” She looked up at Emma as she pulled a matching piece of fabric from her pocket. “Just like this piece that I found near where Amber was discovered. What a coincidence.”
Emma was biting her lip as she glanced at the open barn door. “You know how it is with a dog, she runs through the bushes and I guess a piece must have torn off.”
“Oh yeah, I found her collar today.” Gabe reached behind the horse and picked up Abby’s collar from a wooden bench. “Funny thing, it was in the same area that Amber was found. I must have ridden by it every day, but today the light was just right and it reflected off the tags.” Gabe handed the collar to Emma.
“When did Abby lose that collar Emma?” Lily asked, staring straight into Emma’s dark eyes.
“Oh, I don’t remember.” She wiped a bead of sweat from her lip.
“I remember when it was, you sent me out Monday mornin
g, the day Amber was found dead,” Gabe said confidently.
A phone st
arted to ring in the tack room and Lance’s ears perked up. “That sounds like my phone. Where did you find it Emma?”
Emma’s hand started to quiver and she rushed into the tack room to grab the phone. Just as she was about to throw it into a bucket of water, Ryan pulled her back and took it from her hand. “You should have destroyed it before now if there’s something on there that you don’t want anyone to see.”
Emma crumpled to the floor, ranting nonsense about trying to protect Lance from that evil girl.
Lance tried to comfort her. “What are you talking about, Emma?”
She looked up at him with a tear streaked face. “Amber. She was going to blackmail you. I saw the message on your phone when you took a shower, asking for money.”
Lance rocked her in his arms. “You have it all wrong. I was helping Amber. She needed money to clear up a debt, a little mess she got herself into. She wasn’t blackmailing me, I’ve been helping her since she was a kid. I never should have kept that information from you but I was trying to protect you.”
Emma’s mouth opened but at first nothing came out. Then a whisper. “I sent the text to her from your phone to meet at the Inn. I wanted to protect you.”
Ryan radioed for more police backup and walked outside with Lily. Shaking his head, he asked her, “How did that little piece of material help you put it all together?”
“Emma asked me to stop by the day after the wedding to look at what she needed for flowers for a shower, and I saw Abby with a scarf around her neck. When we were riding yesterday, I saw a colorful piece of fabric around the area where Amber was found but I just thought it was trash that someone threw out. But when I passed Gabe on the trail today and he told me that he found Abby’s collar, I could picture Abby and that colorful scarf—the perfect fabric for strangling someone. I wasn’t sure until I went back and found this piece on the bush. That’s when I called you. I guess that’s when Willow spooked and knocked me over.” Lily knelt down and hugged Rosie. “You came through for me again.” Lily looked up at Ryan. “This dog is amazing.”
Ryan pulled Lily up, embracing her tenderly. “Rosie is amazing for keeping you safe, my beautiful bloom.”
A throat clearing made Lily pull her eyes away from Ryan to see Kari standing nearby looking down and scuffling her sneaker in the dirt. “Kari?”
“Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“How did you do it? I thought it had to be Lance.”
“I don’t know. All the information would keep swirling around in my head and when I saw that piece of fabric, it was like it was the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle and everything fit together.”
“What about the phone? How did you know it was in the barn?”
Lily laughed. “That was a lucky guess. I had no idea it was there but I did wonder if it was Emma who had sent the message to Amber so I suspected that she had the phone at some point and maybe hid it where she thought it would be safe.”
Kari kept fidgeting.
“Is there something else you want to ask me?”
“Do you still want me to work for you?”
Lily smacked her head. “Of course, and I’d better call Daisy. She’s probably ready to kill me.” Lily got a hold of a very upset Daisy and told her to just close the shop and go do her baking. Lily filled her in on the big things that had happened and told her she would catch up with her later to fill her in on the rest. She called her mother next to fill her in on the good news that Lance wasn’t the murderer and the bad news about Emma.
Kari was still standing patiently waiting for Lily to finish up on her phone. “How did you train Rosie to find you like that?”
Lily shook her head. “Rosie is one special dog. She has saved my life five times now and to tell you the truth, I didn’t train her, it’s just her special gift. Maybe she’s paying me back for adopting her from the shelter, I don’t know, but this dog has a big piece of my heart.”
Ryan nodded in agreement.
He leaned close to Lily and whispered, “I hope there’s room leftover in that heart of yours for me.”
Several more police cars pul
led in and Ryan handcuffed Emma to bring her to the police station. She kept her eyes on the ground as she walked by everyone. Abby tried to get in the car with her but Kari ran over, putting a leash on her and keeping her away from the car. Lily wondered if Abby would be able to comfort Lance at all through this crazy ordeal.