Authors: Lyndsey Cole
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Flower Shop - Vermont
The ride back to the farm followed a trail that went parallel to the road for the most part. Lily estimated about where a mile was and wondered where the spot was that Amber’s body had been found. She looked carefully along the trail, for what, she wasn’t sure, but she looked anyway for anything that might seem out of the ordinary. Of course, the police had already searched the area and found everything they could. At one point, she saw some colorful fabric stuck on a low branch along with some other trash. It saddened her to think that people would just toss their garbage out of their car windows for someone else to deal with.
They had to stop and wait for a big tractor trailer to pass before they could cross a section of the road. He honked his air horn, making Lily jump but the only horse that spooked was Willow
, and Nick had her under control in a matter of seconds. She was glad her horse was used to the traffic or she probably would have ended up head over heels in a pile of dirt.
Kari was in the barn cleaning out stalls when th
ey got back. She glanced up as she moved her wheelbarrow but kept working. Lily liked that she was such a strong, hard worker, thinking to herself that Kari would be a big help once she started at Beautiful Blooms.
Lily stopped at the stall door and waited for Kari to finish, not wanting to interrupt her rhythm. “How’s it going?”
she asked when Kari finally turned around.
Kari leaned on her pitchfork. “Pretty good. When do you want me to come to your shop?”
Lily smiled. “I like your enthusiasm, stop by tomorrow if you want and I’ll show you around and explain what I’ll be teaching you to do.”
Kari nodded as she took a small piece of paper out of her jeans pocket. She glanced around to see if anyone else was watching before she shoved it into Lily’s hand. Lily t
ucked the paper into her pocket without opening it.
“I’ll see you in the morning then
,” Kari said before getting back to filling her wheelbarrow with horse poop.
The paper crunched in Lily’s pocket but she resisted the urge to look at it until she was alone. Kari seemed to trust her and Lily didn’t want to discourage that.
Nick had Star in crossties, untacking her. Nina stroked Stars neck, lingering near Nick as he took the saddle off. “Thanks for the adventure, I owe you one now.” Lily watched her wink at Nick but couldn’t see how Nick responded.
Lily stepped closer. “Thanks Nick, it was a lot of fun and such perfect weather.”
He started brushing Star and told her he could finish up if she needed to get going. “I hope you come again. It’s nice to have someone to ride with.”
Lily dropped Daisy at her house and gave Nina a ride to her car which was parked in front of Beautiful Blooms. Nina reached to open the door but paused and said, “You were right about Nick—definitely a toe curling kinda guy. I would love to see him again. Thanks for letting me tag along.”
Yeah, it was fun. Listen, I know you’ll be doing your investigation about Amber Sparks’ murder for the paper, let me know if you turn up anything interesting. Okay?” Lily asked as Nina slid out of the minivan.
“Sure but why the interest?”
“Did you notice that girl working in the barn? It was her friend and I’m just trying to help her out.”
Nina nodded and headed to her car.
Lily sighed a deep cleansing sigh.
That was fun and I got some more interesting information
. She checked her watch.
Maybe I’ll just pick up something quick to heat up from the Misty Valley Market since I’m so not in the mood to cook.
She got to her house and saw that Ryan’s car was already in his driveway. Her pulse quickened at the thought of finally spending some time
with him. Picking up her cloth bag with barbequed chicken and tortellini salad from the market, she let Rosie jump out and followed her to the back door. Ryan was sitting on her porch sipping a beer.
He stood up and took her bag. “I thought you were never getting home. Where have you been?”
Lily unlocked her door and they walked inside. Ryan put the bag on the table and pulled Lily close. “What’s that smell? Horses?”
“My new perfume, like it?” Lily said without cracking a smile.
“Yeah, it goes with the hay I have in my pocket for a snack.” His eyes checked out her boots, jeans and denim jacket. “That suits you, did you go riding?”
Lily looked away, unpacking the bag of food. “Daisy, Nina and I went riding with Nick at the Black Horse Farm.”
“Really.” He sat at the kitchen table and watched Lily. “Let me guess, you ended up at the Stone House Inn?”
Lily sat down facing
Ryan, putting her hands on his thighs. “Listen, I know you don’t like it when I ask questions and get involved in a murder investigation, but I am involved. You said so yourself when I told you the person carrying the body looked up and saw me and Daisy in the hot air balloon. I didn’t plan to see that body or ask Kari to wait for me at Beautiful Blooms, but she opened up to me, people tell me stuff.” Lily remembered the paper in her pocket and pulled it out, holding it in front of Ryan. “Kari gave me this when I was in the barn after we got done riding. I haven’t even looked at it yet.” She opened the paper and read it to Ryan. “Talk to Amber’s mother—Maria Santos, 15 Redrock Road, Pine Meadows.”
Ryan took the paper and read it to himself
before looking back at Lily. “I talked to Maria today and watched her collapse when she found out about Amber. That’s the worst part of my job. She didn’t have any information to help us,” he said, sounding sad and defeated as he put his head in his hands.
She took his hands in hers.
“Maybe Maria was afraid to tell you what she knows. Maybe she’ll open up to me. Apparently Kari seems to think so. Ryan, I have to try.”
He squeezed her hands. “I guess you’re right. I just hate worrying about you.” He pulled her into his lap and kissed her passionately, holding her for dear life, whispering as
she nestled curled up on his lap. “I don’t know what I would do if something happened to you.”
Lily slowly squirmed off his lap. “I really need to go take a shower. There’s beer in the fridge, barbequed chicken and tortellini salad in that bag, so make yourself comfy and I’ll be back in a flash.”
“I hope you still have that earthy animal scent after your shower.” He slapped her butt as she moved away.
Lily hummed to herself as she washed the dust and sweat off her body.
She watched the water swirl down the drain as if all her worries were going down with that dirty water.
It’s been a good day but spending the evening with Ryan is the cream on top
, she thought. She pulled on clean jeans, nice and tight ones that she knew looked great on her, and a black long sleeve t-shirt, well-worn and soft as butter. She pulled her wet hair into a pony tail, took a quick look at her reflection and thought,
Take it or leave, this is me
Walking back into the living room, fresh and clean,
she stopped to take in the scene that greeted her eyes. Rosie was curled up in her favorite chair and Ryan was relaxed on the couch with his long legs stretched out in front of him. The only light was from a couple of candles that Ryan had managed to find, or else he had run next door to his house for them. Ryan had the food, plates, silverware and two glasses of red wine waiting on the coffee table. He’d even scrounged up a few stems of orange dahlias from someplace to decorate the center of the display. The scent of the food hit her nose, making her mouth water, and the sight of Ryan relaxing in her living room made her heart pound.
He patted the spot next to where he sat. “Come on and sit down.”
Lily moved silently across the room in her bare feet and curled up next to Ryan, his arm encircling her and pulling her close. He took a deep breath. “Now you smell like a field of wild flowers, nice contrast to the barn smell.”
She playfully slapped his arm and reached for the wine but he beat her to it, handed her a glass
, and holding one himself, he clinked her glass. “Here’s to us, maybe we’ll have more than five minutes before there’s an interruption.” Lily let the fruity liquid linger in her mouth before swallowing.
“This looks like a feast. Have you eaten anything yet?” Lily asked as she picked up a plate.
“No, I’ve been keeping Rosie company, waiting for you.” Rosie opened one eye and the tip of her tail wagged.
“Dig in, you must be hungry, I know I am.” They ate silently for a few minutes before Lily started to ask Ryan questions. “Why did you arrest Lance Turner? Did you have enough
Ryan sighed. “
I was hoping to avoid this conversation. Can’t it wait?”
Lily had expected that. But she also had her ace in the hole saved to pique his interest.
“There’s one thing Nick told me today. He said that Lance wasn’t driving his car the night of the murder. The car where the blanket was found.”
Ryan set his plate down. “Oh?”
“Gabe, the farm manager had it.”
“I was afraid of something like this. My deputy officer was a little overzealous trying to make a name for himself and he
may have jumped to conclusions too quickly. Lance is probably already out on bail.”
“Don’t get me wrong, it looks like Lance has a motive, means and some
pretty flimsy excuses for his whereabouts and his missing phone, but Walter is sure he didn’t do it.”
Ryan laughed. “Walter is sure he didn’t do it? That’s what you base your decisions on?”
Lily felt her cheeks flush slightly with embarrassment, or from the wine. “No, but it makes me look at who else might have had a motive and opportunity.”
“And what makes you so sure that this Nick guy is telling you the truth?”
“Oh, yeah, I hadn’t thought of that.” Lily leaned back against Ryan and felt her eyes getting heavy. “This is nice,” she mumbled before dozing off.
The light streaming in the window felt good on Lily’s face. O
ne eye opened to see Rosie sitting patiently, staring at her. She wasn’t sure where she was. Her other eye popped open and it all came back, not exactly the memory she had hoped for, but a good one nonetheless. She still had her clothes on and a blanket had been tucked in around her. She realized that she must have dozed off while she was curled up next to Ryan after they finished eating and he covered her with a soft wool blanket before going home. She groaned, feeling the stiffness in her neck and the poor excuse for a date she must have been. The bright sunshine got her moving before the rest of the morning disappeared.
At least I don’t have to spend time dressing
, she laughed to herself.
“Come on Rosie, I don’t think this is going to be a boring day.” Rosie wagged her tail along with the rest of her body, always eager for an adventure. Lily made a cup of coffee, found a pumpkin muffin for breakfast and was out the door in record time. She glanced at Ryan’s house, noticing that his car was already gone.
Maybe we’ll be able to find some more time to spend together soon,
And next time, I won’t fall asleep early.
She waited for Rosie to check out the back yard before calling her to jump into the minivan.
Lily froze when she slid into the driver’s seat and saw a blue piece of paper taped to her steering wheel, but once she read it a smile spread across her face
You are adorable when you snore! Try not to get into any trouble today. XOXOXO,
She carefully folded the paper and slid it into her jeans pocket.
nt about trouble in Ryan’s note made Kari’s message go to the top of Lily’s mind.
What did Kari know and how might Amber’s mother be able to help to find Amber’s murderer?
I still think that Lance seems to be the top suspect. Where was Lance’s phone and who did he visit that night? That text message was incriminating and his private cottage for who knows what type of rendezvous was way more than slightly suspicious. But Gabe’s behavior was odd also. Was Nick right about what Gabe was driving that night? Kari would be able to clear that question up. But it’s also true that anyone could have thrown that blanket in the back of that SUV. Was there someone else that I completely overlooked
Lily pulled in front of Beautiful Blooms, surprised to see Kari pacing in front of the closed shop. “I didn’t expect you so early. Everything okay?”
Kari nodded, bending down to pat Rosie. “Nice dog. You bring her to work with you?”
Lily laughed as she unlocked the door. “It’s my business so I get to do what I want
, and besides, Rosie is very well behaved.” She walked inside, taking in a deep breath of flower scent that always filled her with satisfaction. Turning back to Kari, she said, “Rosie stays in the back keeping Sweet Pea company which will be the first order of business if you get here early.” Lily looked seriously at Kari. “This is a job I only give to special people.”
Kari licked her lips as if she was waiting for a special treat. “I’m ready for anything.”
“That’s what impressed me about you. I watched you muck out the horse stalls and you don’t seem to mind hard work or getting your hands dirty.” Lily walked to the back of the shop, dropping her tote on her design table and opening a cupboard. “Here’s where I keep the cat food. The first thing I always do is feed Sweet Pea and unlock the kitty door so she can come and go as she pleases during the day. Do you think you can handle it?”
Kari tried to suppress a grin but it crept up her cheeks as she took out the cat food and made a huge ceremony of adding some to Sweet Pea’s bowl. “I think I can handle this, it’s a little easier than feeding twenty horses.”
“Good, now I’ll explain how the day usually goes.” Lily showed Kari the walk in cooler, the display cooler, how to answer the phone and where to put the messages. “For now, you can be in charge of the phone while I get today’s orders made.”
The phone rang
almost immediately, making both of them jump and laugh at the same time. Without pausing, Kari picked up the phone saying, “Beautiful Blooms Flower Shop, this is Kari speaking.” Lily gave her two thumbs up and started to walk to the back. Kari called to her, “It’s for you, it’s your mom.”
Lily took the phone.
“Hi Mom … Yes, I hired Kari Sparks to help out part time … Okay, I’ll be here.” She looked at Kari. “I expect chaos to start any minute. So don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Daisy rushed in
, leaning on the counter to catch her breath. “I need to leave early today, a big order just came in and it will take me all afternoon to get it put together.”
Lily looked at Kari and raised one eyebrow as if to say, told you so. “Why are you so out of breath?”
“I left my car at the market so my order could get loaded and I jogged over for a little exercise.”
“Calm down Daisy, it’s okay
if you have to leave early. That’s why I’m training Kari, it takes the pressure off you. By the way, Mom will be here in a few minutes with some big news, just so you’re warned.”
Daisy stretched her arms over her head and t
wisted left and right. “What’s Mom’s news? I hope she’s not going to tell us she’s pregnant.”
They were bo
th doubled over laughing hysterically just as the front door jingled and Iris came in with her arms crossed and a frown on her face. “What are you two so giddy about?” She continued without waiting for a reply. “Have you heard what happened to Emma?”
Daisy and Kari paused and stared at Iris as Lily approached her mother. “No, what happened? Is she alright?”
“She took an overdose of pills. She says it was an accident, but they pumped her stomach and she should be back home later today.”
“What about Lance?”
Iris leaned on the counter. “He should be home today too.” Iris noticed Kari standing in the background looking at her with eyes as big as softballs.
do you know Kari Spark? I’ve hired her part time to help out here. She lives at the Black Horse Farm with her mom, Anna, the house manager. Amber was Kari’s friend.”
Iris nodded. “You’re the one that told the police about the text message to Amber from someone with the initials L.T.? Maybe Lance Turner?”
Kari shuffled her feet uneasily and looked everywhere but at Iris.
“But Lance lost his phone before he went out that night so it wasn’t from him, was it Kari?”
“I don’t know what you mean. I didn’t see the message, Amber read it to me from her phone.”
Iris walked right up to Kari. “Maybe there wasn’t any text message at all. Your
boyfriend gave Amber a ride, he was the last one to be around her. And you know what else? He went out riding the next morning early and didn’t get back until around ten.” Iris spun around to look at Lily. “Wasn’t it around nine when you saw someone carrying a body out of that cottage behind the Stone House Inn from the hot air balloon? Plenty of time for someone to move a body and be back at work by ten.”
Kari’s hand went to her mouth. “Gabe didn’t do it, he wouldn’t murder Amber, he wanted to protect her.”
Lily pulled Iris away. “Mom, leave Kari alone. I know you and Walter want to help Lance, but this isn’t the way to do it.” Lily turned to Kari. “I wonder what happened to Amber’s phone?”
Iris rubbed her neck. “I have to go to the hospital and see if Emma is ready to go home yet. Lily, walk out to my car with me.” Iris opened the door to her yellow bug and paused. “I need to tell you something but you can’t tell anyone.” She looked at Lily
with an expression Lily hadn’t seen since she was twelve and had knocked over a family heirloom while playing soccer inside. It was her mother’s I-mean-business look. “Promise?”
“Lance told Walter where he was the night Amber was murdered and I swore I wouldn’t tell a soul.”
Lily looked up and down the street. “Tell me. It will go no further.”
Iris lowered her voice to barely a whisper. “He was with Amber’s mother, Maria.”
Lily’s hand flew to her mouth to stifle a gasp. “Are they having an affair?”
Iris nodded. “He went to end it before Emma found out. He said it was the biggest mistake he ever made and he’ll go to jail before he tells the police where he was. He wants to protect Emma.”
“What about his phone and that text message?”
“He swears he didn’t send Amber that message and he doesn’t know where his phone is. He said he’s usually so careful about all his stuff, it’s not like he’s absentminded or anything. All he can figure is that he was so distracted about how he was going to break it off with Maria that he got careless.”
“All these secrets. Nothing good ever comes from keeping secrets. I’m sure Kari knows more than she has told me. I hope she trusts me enough to open up soon.”
Iris got into her car. “Lily, don’t tell anyone what I just told you. Use it to focus on someone else
who is the murderer.”
“I’m going to make a visit to Maria Santos and see what she’ll tell me.” Lily watched as her mother drove off.
If Lance wasn’t in his cottage that night, who was? Gabe?