Authors: D. Savannah George
Tags: #mystery, #fiction
Table of Contents
A Spicy Secret
Copyright © 2012 Annie’s.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews. For information address Annie’s, 306 East Parr Road, Berne, Indiana 46711-1138.
The characters and events in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons or events is coincidental.
Library of Congress-in-Publication Data
A Spicy Secret/ by D. Savannah George
Annie’s Attic Mysteries
Series Editors: Ken and Janice Tate
To the little girl I used to be, who wrote and illustrated her own stories, and to all the little girls who dream of one day being a published author: Never give up and your dreams can come true.
“You will never guess what we found yesterday!” Alice MacFarlane exclaimed, limping into A Stitch in Time for the regular Tuesday meeting of the Hook and Needle Club, the first after New Year’s. She carried a covered glass dish, while a bulging plastic bag hung off one arm. Her project bag was slung over the other shoulder.
The ladies who had already arrived for the meeting were on the edge of their seats—the scent wafting from the dish was far more tantalizing than Alice’s announcement, providing a nice distraction from January’s low cloud cover and blowing snow.
Annie Dawson, close behind Alice, set down some bags and shrugged out of her winter wear—a white puffy down coat, gloves, hat, and scarf. She hadn’t put much thought into her attire that day—she was just too excited about their discovery. She had barely run a comb through her blond hair, and she wore an old pair of khakis and a white sweatshirt that read “World’s Greatest Grandma” in colorful puffy fabric paint, a handmade Christmas gift from her twin grandchildren, Joanna and John, now almost eight years old. She appreciated the sentiment, but under normal circumstances would have never worn it out in public. What if a certain mayor—Ian Butler by name—saw her dressed like this? Yes, she
a grandma, but she didn’t need to dress like one. She vowed to go straight home and change after the meeting.
Annie relieved Alice of her burdens, placing the dish and bags on a little table that Mary Beth Brock, the shop’s owner, had hurriedly set at the side of the room near the cash register. Mary Beth was also dressed for the cold, but she wore brown leggings instead of slacks, topped by a cream wrap sweater, making her look younger than her sixty years.
Peggy Carson, her short dark hair pulled back in blue kiddie barrettes, jumped up to help. Her pale blue turtleneck and blue corduroy pants nicely set off her dark brown cable-knit sweater. Annie liked seeing Peggy in something other than her pink-and-white waitress uniform from The Cup & Saucer, but she knew the younger woman usually came to meetings during a break before the lunch rush.
“Peggy! You’re not in your uniform! Are you not working today?” Annie asked her.
“Emily has a dentist appointment at one o’clock, so Jeff told me to go ahead and take the whole day off,” Peggy told her as the two busied themselves with the paper plates, napkins, and plasticware. Annie found it amusing that the younger woman couldn’t stop herself from serving, regardless of the situation.
Alice—whose auburn hair looked perfect despite the weather—took off her long leopard-print coat and matching gloves, revealing a plum-color turtleneck sweater, lots of long, shiny necklaces, and a pair of faded jeans. She hung her coat on the rack in the corner before collapsing dramatically into a chair and putting her left foot on a stack of boxes.
“Sprained ankles are not for the faint of heart,” she announced grandly. “I will surely be glad when this winter is over.” Alice had slipped on ice and had twisted her ankle over the weekend.
“I’ll be glad too, and we’ve got months to go,” said Kate Stevens while emptying and pricing a box of new yarn and pattern books. “This weather is just depressing.” Kate wore one of her own crocheted creations, a long red sweater-vest, over a black top and black pants. Annie marveled, not for the first time, at how much talent Kate possessed and how lucky Mary Beth was to have her working in the store.
“You’re telling me,” Alice replied. “If I don’t see another snowflake or ice patch for the rest of my life, it will be too soon.”
“Enough chitchat,” teased Mary Beth. “What did you find?”
“You know how I’ve been working on renovating Grey Gables?” Annie said, to everyone’s affirmative answer. “Alice has decided to buy the carriage house, and she convinced me to help her start updating it. And, well, you’ll never guess what we found!”
“That’s wonderful, but I think I’m more interested in what’s in this dish,” Peggy laughed, lifting the lid and taking an appreciative sniff. “It smells divine. What is it?”
“It’s an experiment,” Alice replied, waving her hands grandly. “I guess I’d call it bread pudding since it’s got bread, milk, margarine, eggs, and raisins in it.”
Peggy grabbed a serving spoon from one of the bags and started dishing out the contents, taking a plate to each lady in the circle.
Stella Brickson, the matriarch of the group, took the proffered plate with a murmured “Thanks.” Whatever the situation, Stella always dressed impeccably; today she wore gray creased slacks and a black sweater adorned with a vintage art deco pin, her camel-hair coat draped casually over the back of her chair.
“Thank you, Peggy,” Gwendolyn Palmer said, dressed in brown tweed like she’d just come from a photo shoot for a magazine.
Once everyone had a plate, Alice announced cheerily, “
! Dig in.”
The ladies each put a heaping spoonful in their mouths, only to make faces of disgust and spit it out immediately. Except for Stella, of course—the older lady’s refined manners, even when confronted with such a vile taste, required her to discretely remove the offending substance from her mouth with one of the paper napkins Peggy had given her.
“Oh my, Alice, what in the world is this?” Kate was the first to ask what everyone else wondered. “And why does it taste so bad?”
“I’m not sure,” Alice said, a mortified look on her face. “I was so short on time that I didn’t try it. I just made it, and I wanted to share the experiment with everyone. My baking has never backfired like this before!” Alice then explained the discovery that she and Annie had made the previous day.
“Annie, Annie, Annie!” Alice whined into the receiver as soon as her friend answered. “I’m bored. I’m bored and cold, and my ankle hurts, and there’s nothing to watch on TV. Will you come over? Pretty please?”
Alice did not feel like her usual indomitable self; instead, today she felt like a churlish teenager. The lovely Maine winter with its picture-perfect snowfall had disappeared a few days before Christmas in a terrible nor’easter, and the lights and excitement of Christmas had gone. Then, during Stony Point’s New Year’s Eve celebration two days earlier, she had slipped on a patch of ice and sprained her ankle.
Even the thought of buying the carriage house and making it her own, after all the years of renting, couldn’t cheer her up. The carriage house—a miniature version of Grey Gables—had been part of the estate owned by Elizabeth and Charles Holden, Annie’s grandparents. Betsy had sold it and the corner lot it stood upon several years after Charles’s death. But now the furnace needed to be replaced—and badly. Repair work the owners had had done on it the previous month had been a Band-Aid fix at best.
But no matter how bored or cold or cooped up she felt, she would
walk to Grey Gables in the cold and snow on that hurt ankle, especially after the doctor had expressly forbidden such shenanigans. But she still felt a little silly, begging like that.
“No problem, Alice,” Annie answered promptly. “I just took a chicken potpie out of the oven. Shall I bring it over?”
“Pretty please?” Alice asked, and Annie just laughed.
“I’ll be right over,” she said as she hung up.
Alice sighed and looked around. After she and John MacFarlane had divorced, the carriage house had been a cozy haven, and the years living next door to Betsy had made the time fly by. That was before Betsy’s death and Annie’s return to Grey Gables and Stony Point, Maine, a move that allowed Annie and Alice to rebuild a friendship begun in the summers of their youth, when Annie stayed with her grandparents while her parents served in overseas missions.
Alice loved her home’s charm—the high-ceilinged foyer with its pretty chandelier and marble floor, the lovely windows, and the view of the sea from the porch. And its size was perfect for her lifestyle. But she felt dissatisfied with the wall color and the floor coverings, not to mention the furniture, much of which the current owners, the Swanns, had left from their days of using it every summer. To make matters worse, the day after Christmas she’d decided to empty the storage unit she’d rented after her divorce and go through everything—which meant she was now surrounded by boxes and boxes of items from her former life.
Although she’d gotten permission from the Swanns to begin renovations, and felt anxious to start, the mess, her hurt ankle, and a blue mood didn’t make it easy. Hopefully, Annie would have some ideas.
“Come in,” she hollered when her friend knocked. “I’m in the living room.”
She waited impatiently while Annie fussed in the kitchen, setting the potpie to cool on a trivet.
“My stars, Alice! What in the world has happened?” Annie said in disbelief as she looked around the messy living room—boxes scattered all over the floor; blankets and bed linens piled on an end table; and the coffee table stacked high with mail, magazines, books, and catalogs. Even the bookshelf, normally a neat display of Alice’s cross-stitch pattern books, a few treasured storybooks from her childhood, and a small collection of knickknacks, had been stuffed to overflowing. “I’ve never seen this place in such disarray! Are you OK? And are you warm enough under all that?”
Alice was huddled on the couch under a blue cotton blanket, a colorful block quilt, a black-and-white fleece throw, and a pink crocheted afghan, and she wore some sweats that had been through the washer so many times they barely had any color left. Her ankle had been wrapped in a brace, and she had it propped up on a heap of pillows.
“I’m warm enough—thanks for asking! And all this?” Alice dramatically swept her left arm to encompass her surroundings. “Since I’m officially moving on with my life by purchasing this place, I decided I should go through all the stuff I had in storage and put it behind me once and for all. So I emptied out the storage unit and brought everything here. Kind of depressing, actually, to look at things that used to belong to John and me, the couple. Then I twisted my ankle, so I’m feeling even more out of sorts. Unfortunately, what you see here isn’t even all of it; there’s more upstairs.”
“Oh, Alice, you poor thing.” Annie made her way carefully to her friend and then leaned down and gave her a hug. “How can I help?”
“Well, first, you can help me sort through and haul off the things I don’t want to keep. And since the Swanns have said I could, I’d love to start renovations. But where should I start? Fresh paint on the walls? New rugs? New furniture? Throw everything out on the lawn and start completely over?”
“I don’t think it’s quite
bad.” Annie laughed. “And of course, I’ll be more than happy to help you go through the boxes. As for renovations, there are plenty of easy things we can do. After painting so much of my house, I can certainly help you pick colors. What if you have Wally redo the floors, and then decide what to do next? You know, start at the bottom and work your way up?”
Wally Carson, Peggy’s husband, had been a godsend. There seemed to be no end to his knowledge of construction and renovation, and Annie knew that his work on Grey Gables’s endless repairs really helped keep the Carson family afloat.
“Ooh, that’s a great idea,” Alice said, struggling to sit up. “Oh dear, my leg has fallen asleep.”
“That’s what you get for being such a lazybones,” Annie teased her, and then she started giggling, with Alice joining in. “I can tell you that Wally will want the floors cleared before he gets started, so let’s see what we’ve got. You’re lucky I’m wearing my work jeans and sweatshirt today. I vote we
start in here.”
With Annie’s help, Alice struggled to her feet and limped along next to Annie while they surveyed the rooms.
Alice’s kitchen appeared to be the one place untouched by the chaos in the rest of the house. It was clean and neat. “The kitchen is probably a bigger task than we want to worry about right now,” Annie said. “You’ll eventually have to decide what you want done. New cabinets or just paint the old ones? New appliances?”
“I’ve watched just enough renovation shows on TV to know only one thing—it’s almost too overwhelming to know where to start,” Alice replied. “I know I don’t like the flooring in here, but beyond that ….”
“OK, so we’ll worry about it later.” Annie stepped into a tiny, clear corner of the dining room, stacked with boxes and supplies for Divine Décor and Princessa, the businesses Alice worked for. “Wow! I do not want to try to move all those!”
“I know,” Alice replied with a grimace. “Normally everything’s upstairs in the spare room, but I had to move the boxes down here so I’d have space for sorting. And that’s more than I usually have on hand; I just placed a big order from the end-of-year sales. I like to start getting ready now for spring parties.”
They climbed the stairs to the second floor.
“I don’t think we should try to tackle your bedroom until you’ve had a chance to sort through,” Annie said, peeking in at the clothes, jewelry, shoes, magazines, books and half-finished needlework projects. Lotions and potions were scattered and piled on every available surface, including the bed. Annie was surprised at the mess; Alice was usually so together.
“I know,” Alice groaned. “First I brought the storage unit stuff in here and started sorting, and then I thought I should use the excuse to go through my closets and drawers and everything else. Then I slipped and hurt my ankle. I just got overwhelmed and gave up. Why do you think I’m sleeping on the couch?”
“What about starting with the sitting area?”
“Nah, it’s too small to make me feel like we’ve made a difference,” Alice replied. “Why don’t we start with the spare room?”
Annie took a look. “I think we have a winner!”
Alice went into her bedroom and turned on the radio. With Alice directing, and both of them singing along to the music, Annie moved everything in the closet to the sitting area, slid an empty chest into the hallway, carted a small table downstairs to the dining room, and dismantled and moved the twin bed into the sitting area.
“I must love you a
,” Annie teased as she wiped a hand across her sweaty forehead.