Read Lyndsey Cole - Lily Bloom 05 - Hidden by the Hydrangeas Online
Authors: Lyndsey Cole
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Flower Shop - Vermont
Lily led Anna away from the building and anyone who might possibly overhear their conversation. “Did you
know that a body has been found and Kari’s driver’s license was near the body?”
Anna’s eyes grew as big as saucers and she started to shake. “
“Amber?” Lily asked.
Anna slid down the side of the car they were standing next to, stopping in a half crouched position. “Amber Santos. She’s Kari’s new friend.” Anna looked up at Lily and Daisy. “I don’t know much about her except that she drifted into Kari’s life a month or so ago and Kari has been spending a lot of time with her. She’s only nineteen and borrows Kari’s license sometimes so she can get into clubs. They look enough alike; tall, slender, long dark hair and dark eyes.”
Lily crouched next to Anna. “You need to tell the police this much so they know who the victim is and they can find her family. She probably has a mom out there somewhere worried sick about her.”
Anna bowed her head and sighed. “I guess you’re right but I’m so afraid for Kari.” She peered at Lily. “Can you imagine what it’s like to worry day and night about your daughter? I can’t even sleep anymore.”
“Do you think she’s involved in the murder?”
“No! I think she could be in danger though.”
Lily pulled her phone out of her pocket. “I’m going to call the police chief and ask him to meet us out here, that way Kari won’t know that you’re talking to him. Okay?”
Anna nodded, stood up, and wiped the tears from her face. “Will you stay here with me?”
Daisy put her arm around Anna. “Of course we’ll stay.” Daisy nodded to Lily to go ahead and call Ryan.
Lily dialed, then slid her phone back into her pocket. “He didn’t answer. I’m going inside to find him so just wait here until I get back.” Lily hugged Anna then held her shoulders, looking right into her dark eyes. “It will be okay.” To herself she added,
I hope I know what the heck I’m talking about.
Lily hurried back into the police station hoping Ryan wasn’t too busy to come out and talk to Anna befo
re she lost her nerve and changed her mind.
The first person she saw was Kari, sitting huddled with her arms wrapped around her slim figure, her head facing the floor and her long dark hair hiding her face.
Acting on impulse and gut instinct, Lily sat down next to Kari. “ever since I saw your mom yesterday, I’ve been thinking about hiring a part time person to help me in my flower shop. My sister works for me but she’s starting her own baking business and it’s just a matter of time before I start pulling my hair out trying to get everything done by myself.”
Kari relaxed her arms slightly and
turned her head toward Lily. “Why are you telling me this? I don’t care about your problems.”
“You might not care about my problems, but my problems could mean a job if you have any interest. Think about it.” Lily patted Kari’s leg
as a friendly gesture, then got up and walked down the hall.
I planted that seed, let’s see if it grows into anything. Now it’s up to Kari to come to me, I’m certainly not going to beg her.
Lost in her thoughts and wondering if she would regret the offer
she just made, she crashed right into Ryan as he excited his office.
“Missing me already?” He grinned his lopsided grin.
Lily pulled him back into his office and closed the door. “Can you come out to the parking lot? Now?”
“Gee Lily, can’t you wait until I’m off work?”
She slapped his arm playfully. “Sorry to disappoint you, but it’s not what you’re thinking. Anna Sparks is ready to talk to you but she doesn’t want her daughter to know. She’s waiting outside with Daisy.” She paused to let that bombshell sink into Ryan’s brain. “I’m going back out, follow me in a few minutes.”
Lily turned to leave but Ryan held her arm and stopped her. “What’s going on? I’ve been trying to get the two of them to say anything and I haven’t gotten one word.”
Lily shrugged and her mouth curled into a grin. “They like me. Don’t wait too long or she might spook and leave.”
Lily smiled as she walked by Kari and Kari’s lip twitched into the ever so slight beginning of a grin.
I wonder what can of worms I’ve just opened up
Lily found Daisy and Anna in the same spot. Anna had managed to pull herself together
and she looked like a big weight had fallen off her shoulders. “The police chief will be out in a few minutes. Don’t worry, just relax and tell him what you told us. He’s a nice guy and wants to help.”
Ryan came around the building to where the three women were waiting. “Ms. Sparks? Lily told me you want to talk to me.”
Anna had trouble looking directly at Ryan. “This is hard for me.” She glanced at Lily for reassurance. “Lily told me that my daughter’s license was found near the victim?”
and shot Lily a warning look. She knew she could have overstepped her bounds by sharing that information.
“Have you told Kari yet?”
He took a deep breath. “No, not yet. I was hoping she might offer us the information she knows without me having to tell her any details.”
Anna nodded. “She hasn’t even told me anything but I can
tell something is wrong. She was arguing with her boyfriend all yesterday afternoon.”
“Do you know why the victim might have had your daughter’s license?”
Anna nodded again. “I think the girl might be Kari’s friend, Amber Santos,” Ann explained. “Kari sometimes loaned Amber her license so she could get into clubs.”
Ryan jotted t
he name down. “Would you be willing to identify her so we can start looking for her family?”
I only saw Amber once so maybe it’s time to sit down with Kari and explain some of this to her. She’ll have more information than I do and would be able to give a more positive identification.”
Ryan looked at Lily and Daisy. “
Thanks for your help, I know it’s getting late for you to get to work so you two can go now.”
held onto Lily’s arm. “Can’t Lily stay?” she pleaded with Ryan.
Ryan considered this
request. “Alright. Do you need a ride Daisy?”
Lily got her keys out of her tote. “Here, take my minivan
and open up the shop. If it’s not busy, take Rosie for a quick walk. I’ll get a ride back from Anna when we’re done.”
Anna hung onto Lily’s arm as they slowly followed Ryan back into the station.
All the chairs were empty inside. Ryan glanced at Lily, then hurried down the hall, checking his office and the small conference room. Nobody. “Lily, check if she went into the bathroom.”
The bathroom was empty.
Anna hugged her body, trembling, and Lily helped Anna sit in one of the metal chairs. “Where would she go?” she quietly asked.
Shaking her head, Anna said, “I’m not sure, but the first place I would check is to see if she
’s with Gabe.”
“Gabe, the farm manager?”
Anna’s eyes searched Lily’s face. “Uh huh. He usually went out with Kari and Amber. I really don’t know who else she would turn to if she’s in trouble.”
Lily stopped Ryan
as he strode past them down the hall, clearly on a mission. “Let me go with Anna to find Kari. She wouldn’t talk to you while she was here, maybe she’ll feel less intimidated if I go with Anna.”
Ryan pressed his lips in a tight line. “I don’t like this idea but you’re probably right. At this point, I need information to identify the victim so if you can get her to open up and agree to do that, it’s a step in the right direction.”
Lily told Anna, “I’ll go with you since my sister has my car.” They practically ran outside and got into Anna’s SUV and headed out to the Black Horse Farm. “What’s the story about Gabe?” Lily asked as Anna drove like a madwoman.
out the window, forcing herself to be patient while waiting for Anna to answer. She didn’t press, assuming Anna would offer something once she was ready. Instead, Lily told Anna about her conversation with Kari and how she offered Kari a job.
“Really? Why would you do that?” Anna asked in disbelief.
“Well, I remember how hard everything was at Kari’s age, not knowing what you want, too much time, hanging out with friends and maybe taking the wrong risks.” Lily looked at Anna. “All kids go through that but some get into more trouble than others. Most of us were just really really lucky. Maybe a part time job will help Kari figure out what she wants. Having someone give you responsibility helps develop self confidence.”
“But why Kari? You could hire anyone.”
“Believe me, it wasn’t planned, but when I saw how vulnerable she looked sitting at the police station, my gut told me what to do. She has to come to me now, I won’t offer again. Besides, if it doesn’t work out, then we can go our separate ways. But if it does work out, I have a good worker and she has a job, win-win.”
Anna let her mouth turn into a half grin. “She’s stupid if she doesn’t take it. Thank you.”
The SUV turned into the driveway for the Black Horse Farm and Lily noticed that Anna’s knuckles were white from gripping the steering wheel. “You didn’t tell me anything about Gabe yet.”
Anna answered quickly this time, like she had rehearsed the words in her head.
“He’s a good guy, a little quick tempered, great with the horses, but I’m just not sure if he’s the right guy for Kari.”
Lily sympathized. “Unfortunately, that’s not your call. My mother likes my current boyfriend but I went through a few that did
n’t meet her approval.”
Anna parked in front of the big barn and told Lily, “Whoever your boyfriend
is now is one lucky guy.”
“It’s the police chief, Ryan Steele, and he gets pretty frustrated with me when I stick my nose into murder investigations.”
Before Anna could say an
ything else, they saw Emma leaving the barn at a fast pace dressed in her riding boots and pants with Abby at her side. Abby ran over to Anna’s car, ready to greet the newcomers, but Emma snapped her fingers and Abby returned to her side. Emma waved before she and her dog went into the house.
Anna climbed out of her car, motioning for Lily to fo
llow her. “Gabe is probably in the barn feeding the horses. Emma usually rides early in the day. She must have just gotten back and is heading inside to shower. Let’s check the barn for Gabe and find out if he knows where Kari is.”
Lily heard dogs barking behind the barn and wondered how often they got any freedom. Her idea of having dogs meant she liked their company and would never consider keeping a pet in a kennel.
At least Emma’s dog, Abby, got lots of attention.
entered the barn a few paces behind Anna and it took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust from the bright light outside to the dimmer light in the barn. She stopped and looked down the center aisle with stalls on each side and horse heads all looking curiously at her. She sucked in a deep breath of horse and hay scent. Anna was ahead, already talking to Gabe.
As Lily caught up she heard Gabe arguing with Anna. “I saw her leave with you
this morning but I haven’t seen her since. You need to give her some space, let her find herself.”
Lily reached her hand out to touch Gabe’s
arm. “We’re worried about Kari. If there’s anything you can think of, it could be helpful.” He recoiled like the touch had burned him.
Gabe shifted from one foot to the other and his eyes darted everywhere but at Lily. “I don’t know where she is
,” he mumbled before he turned and took the halter off one of the horses and led him out of the barn. Lily was sure she heard the ringtone of a phone coming from the back pocket of his jeans.
had fire in her eyes and started to go after him, but Lily held her arm forcing her to stop. “He knows something, I’m sure of it,” Anna hissed angrily.
“Let him go. If you chase him he’ll just clam up more. Have you check
ed your apartment?”
“I’ll check now.”
Lily looked around the barn, admiring all the beautiful horses, talking to them softly. The smell of leather mingled with the horses and she peeked into a tack room with all the saddles, beautifully shined and arranged alphabetically by, what Lily assumed, were the horses’ names.
“Hey there.” Lily jumped at the soft sound of a voice behind her. “Ready for that trail ride?” She turned to see Nick smiling as he leaned on a stall with one of the horses nuzzling his shoulder.
“Um, not yet, I have to get to my shop.”
“I didn’t see your minivan outside, how did you get here?”
Lily made a quick decision. “I came with Anna to help her find Kari.” She saw concern in the pilot’s eyes.
“She’s missing again?”
Lily walked closer to Nick and eyed him suspiciously. “Does she disappear a lot?”
Not a lot, but it’s happened a few times since I’ve been working here. She’s probably with that friend of hers.”
“Yeah, that’s the one. She’s trouble.” Nick reached back and stroked the horse’s nose, clucking softly and moving away so the horse didn’t knock Nick’s cap off his head. “This is Midnight, a real sweet girl.” He grinned, revealing his dimpled cheeks. “I have a crush on this one.”
Lily let Midnight smell
her open palm. “What can you tell me about Amber?” She decided not to mention the fact that Amber was dead, at least not yet.
“Pretty girl. Young, too young to hang out with the men
I’ve seen her with. I don’t know what Kari sees in her. Maybe that Amber is always pushing the boundaries and that is exciting to be around.”
“How about you? Did you ever hang out with Amber?” Lily watched his reaction carefully.
Nick tensed and rolled his eyes up toward the roof of the barn before answering Lily’s question. “Once. I went out with her once, but when I found out she was only nineteen, I decided I didn’t want what she was offering.”
“And that was?”
“Let’s just say she liked to party to the limit of everything; sex, drugs, you name it.”
Anna returned looking forlorn. “There’s no sign that Kari has been back to the apartment and she’s not answering her phone.”
Lily tried to console her. “I’m sure she’ll turn up. I have to get to my shop if one of you could give me a ride?” Lily looked from Anna to Nick hoping one of them would have time to give her a ride or else she would have to call Daisy.
Anna hesitated. “I should get to work myself before Ms. Turner
fires me. Nick, can you give Lily a ride?”
Nick checked his watch. “Sure. I have to pick up Mr. Turner at noon so I have plenty of time
to drop you off first.” He looked at Lily. “Is there a landing pad for the helicopter at your flower shop?”
Lily did a double take.
Nick laughed out loud. “I’m just kidding, my car is parked behind the barn, follow me.”
They walked through the barn and out into the sunshine. Lance’s helicopter was sitting on a cement pad behind the barn and Nick’s sports car which he didn’t drive too often since he usually drove the Turner’s SUV, was parked nearby. “I’ve always loved driving—dirt bikes, four wheelers and motorcycles when I was a kid and now my sports car and Lance’s helicopter. Life doesn’t get much better than this. Oh yeah, and riding. How about that trail ride this afternoon? You can ride Midnight.”
“If I don’t get to work soon, I’ll be working till midnight.”
After they slid into Nick’s car, Lily’s curiosity got her asking questions again. “Does Lance travel a lot?”
“Lately he hasn’t been. This was a quick trip for him
, something to do with work, supposedly.” Nick glanced at Lily. “I think he’s going to be around for a while now, trying to patch it up with Emma. I probably shouldn’t say anything since he’s my boss, but I don’t think he and Emma are getting along very well at the moment.”
“Oh? Do you know why?”
Nick shrugged. “No, just a feeling I get when I’m around both of them. There doesn’t seem to be that comfortable touching and private jokes that so many married couples develop.”
“My friend Nina
wasn’t too impressed with him at my mom’s wedding. She said he couldn’t keep his eyes or hands off her. You’d think he would be satisfied with his gorgeous wife.” Lily pointed to the next corner. “You need to take a right up ahead.”
Nick barely slowed down and the tires squealed around the corner. “
Yeah, she’s got it all; beauty and brains.”
Nick stopped in front of Lily’s Beautiful Blooms Flower Shop. “Cute place you have, mind if I come in and take a look around?”
Lily felt her face warm up from the compliment. “Of course not, but be prepared for chaos.”
Nick followed Lily inside to find Daisy juggling the cash register, a ringing phone and several customers waiting, not so patiently.
She cocked an eyebrow when she saw Nick and handed the phone to Lily. “It’s your hot cop.” She saw the start of a grin on Nick’s lip before he glanced around the shop, sniffing flowers and watching the activity.
Daisy got the customers taken care of, wrapping flowers and sending them happily on their way. “So, Mr. Pilot, what can I help you with?
Flowers for your girlfriend maybe?”
No, no girlfriend at the moment. Your sister needed a ride, so I just figured I’d come in and look around.”
Lily hung up the phone. “Ryan is heading to the
Stone House Inn to search that cottage.” She looked directly at Nick. “The one that your boss reserves for himself.”
“Search for what?”
Lily noticed that he asked innocently.
He put the flower back that he had been inspecting and she noticed his hand was trembling slightly.
Amber’s body was found about a mile away and they think she may have been in that cottage before she was murdered.”
The color from Nick’s face drained in a matter of seconds. “Amber is dead? The police think Lance is connected?”
“I don’t know if they have gotten enough evidence to point to Lance, but someone who had access to that cottage may be the murderer.”
Lily pointed to a chair for Nick to sit in. “Do you know who else has
a key to that cottage?”
Nick shook his head. “Not really. I would assume the owners ha
ve a key since they must do the cleaning. Maybe someone stole it or had a copy made.” He stood up abruptly. “I’d better get going. I don’t want to be late for Mr. Turner. He’s a nice guy as long as he gets what he wants.”
Lily sank onto the stool at her design table. “I feel like the day hasn’t even started yet and I’m exhausted.”
Daisy cleaned up her work area. “Don’t get too comfortable. There’s someone waiting to talk to you in your office.”
“You’re kidding, right
? I don’t want to talk to anyone right now,” Lily whispered.
“Not kidding, and
believe me, you will want to talk to this person. Kari was waiting on the doorstep when I arrived but said she wouldn’t talk to anyone but you.”
Lily jumped off her stool, rushing into her office in a flash. “
Kari, why did you run off like that? Your mother is beside herself with worry.”
sat hunched in a chair, her legs bent to the side with Sweet Pea curled up in her arms. Kari stroked the sleeping kitty and Lily could hear the contented purring of her cat. Lily forced herself to be calm as she sat next to the frightened girl and put her arm around Kari’s shoulders. She handed her phone to Kari, quietly asking her to call her mother and tell her she was okay.
Once that was taken care of, Lily got two cups of
herbal tea and settled down with Kari to try to coax her story out. “I can understand it’s kind of scary at the police station.” Lily sipped her tea. “It’s safe here, so how about you tell me what you know about what happened to Amber.”
hugged Sweet Pea tight against her chest and put her cheek on the soft fur. “We went out to a club. Me, Gabe and Amber.” Kari looked up. “That’s why she had my license. It was crowded and loud and we were having a lot of fun until Gabe said he wanted to get going since he has to get up early to feed the horses. That got Amber mad. Screaming mad, yelling at Gabe and hitting him. In the end, she came with us because she didn’t have anyone else to give her a ride. We all left and he drove us to Amber’s apartment. That’s when she got the text message.”
“Text message?” Lily asked.
“Yeah, she said L.T. wanted to meet her at his cottage.”
Lily’s hand trembled but she forced her voice to stay calm. “Do you know who L.T. is?”
“No. Amber wouldn’t tell me. She said it was best that I didn’t know, but I had my suspicions. So did Gabe.”
“Did Gabe give
her a ride to this cottage?”
Kari sighed. “He wanted to stay with me
for a little while but Amber was frantic, saying she had to meet this person and she wouldn’t stop pestering him so he caved and took her to the Stone House Inn.”
“Did you go too?”
“No. I stayed at her apartment. Gabe dropped her off and went back to the farm.”
Lily looked out the window and finished her tea. Kari finally picked up her cup and started to drink it. “Why didn’t you let your mother know where you were?”
Kari shrugged. “She didn’t like it when I hung out with Amber so I figured what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her as much. It didn’t seem like that big a deal to me. Am I in a lot of trouble?”
“I don’t know, Kari, but you need to talk to the police chief. You can’t just keep running away and hiding, that makes you look guilty of something. Your friend was murdered and you might be the key to help solve it.”
“I’m afraid he’ll come after me too.”
Lily leaned close to Kari. “He?
Lily’s hand went to her mouth. “That’s who Amber was meeting?”
“I think so. I don’t know any other L.T. and Mr. Turner had that cottage reserved for himself. It wasn’t a secret.”
“What about Gabe? Maybe he never dropped her off at the Stone House Inn.”
Kari’s eyes got dark as storm clouds. “That’s what I asked him the next day. We had a big fight about what happened after he left with Amber but he insisted that he dropped her off and went straight back to his apartment. She never called me in the morning and that’s when I started to worry. She always liked to talk about her rendezvous, brag to me about the nice gifts or money she got. I hung out at her apartment hoping she would show up but she never did. Gabe finally came over and picked me up and brought me home.”
Lily sat back and breathed deeply. “Wow. I wonder where Mr. Lance Turner is. It sounds like he has some explaining to do.”