Read Deadly Devotion Online

Authors: Sandra Orchard

Tags: #FIC022040, #FIC042060, #Female friendship—Fiction, #Herbalists—Crimes against—Fiction, #Suicide—Fiction

Deadly Devotion (3 page)

BOOK: Deadly Devotion
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Edward stopped pacing. “I remember she’d said something about a kid.” He strode to the rolltop desk in the corner of the room and yanked up the cover. Scattered papers lined the desktop. He riffled through them, then crouched and tore through the drawers. “The kid plagiarized his research report. Daisy said she’d have to inform the university.” Edward slammed down a stack of files and sat back on his heels. “It’s not here.”

“I’m surprised she never mentioned the incident to me.”

“I’m not. She wanted to convince the kid to come clean on his own.” Edward stuffed the files back into the drawer and closed the desk lid. “Say you’re right about the switched teas being a prank. How did the kid get the marigolds into her cupboard?”

“May I look at her kitchen?”

Edward swept his open palm toward the entrance. “Be my guest.”

Sun streamed through the patio doors that opened off the breakfast nook. Philodendrons climbed from pots at the sides of the door and twined across a bar above. Two navy blue place mats decorated with white daisies—the place mats Kate had given her for Christmas—lay at either end of the table, waiting for them to sit and sample Daisy’s latest blend.

Kate’s throat thickened.

Edward watched her from the doorway, his expression unreadable.

She offered him a halfhearted smile and turned to the counter. She gasped at the dusty mess the police had left behind.
Fingerprinting residue covered the herb-filled jars lining the granite counter and the teacup sitting at the lip of the sink, not to mention the counter itself and the dribbles across the floor to the fridge.

“I guess we should be grateful the cops saw no point in dusting the rest of the house for fingerprints,” Edward said.

As much as it felt like the police had defiled Daisy’s home by leaving it in such a state, Kate disagreed with Edward. If the police had investigated more thoroughly, they might not have been so quick to dismiss Daisy’s death as self-inflicted. Kate opened the fridge door. A stench wafted into the room. Rotten meat. Gagging, Kate shoved the door closed and threw open the window over the sink.

Edward reached into the cupboard above the stove and pulled out a garbage bag. “Sorry, I can take care of that. This is the first I’ve been back since the police released the scene.”

While he disposed of the bag outside, Kate found a box of baking soda and stuck it in the fridge to absorb the odor. She shoved away the thought of how horrible the entire house would have smelled if Daisy’s body hadn’t been discovered so quickly, but she couldn’t shake the heaviness that had settled over her.

She couldn’t do this. Not here. Not now.

Edward returned to the kitchen with a cardboard box. “You might as well take the jars of herbs home with you. I won’t use them.”

Relief swooshed the air from her lungs. “Are you sure?”

“Trust me. Real men don’t drink this stuff.”

A laugh slipped out, but it felt good.

Edward loaded the jars into the box. “Is there anything else you want to see?”

Remembering the journal, Kate led the way back to the living room. A hint of jasmine veiled the stench that had crept through the kitchen. “Your aunt may have written something in her journal that will give us a clue to who would poison her.”

Edward’s heavy sigh rattled the jars in the box he carried. “It’s almost easier to believe she killed herself than to believe someone wanted her dead.”

Kate thumbed through the stack of papers on the coffee table. “She usually kept her journal with her Bible.”

“I’ve never noticed.” He set the box on the sofa. “I’ll check her night table.”

Kate followed him down the hallway, but at the door to Daisy’s room, he stopped her.

“Wait here,” he said, then plunged inside and pulled the door shut behind him.

Torn between not allowing him to face the room alone and sparing herself the sight of Daisy’s deathbed, Kate hovered outside the door with her hand on the knob. By the time she pushed it open, Edward was rushing out.

“Don’t go in there. I’ll arrange for a guy to take the mattress to the dump. I should have done it days ago.” He shut the door and handed her a stack of notebooks. “Are these what you’re looking for?”

Kate fanned through the pages. “No, these are research notes.”

Edward touched the small of her back and prodded her toward the living room. “Then you might as well take them. I won’t read them.”

She tucked the notebooks into the box next to the jars. “Was Daisy’s Bible in her room?”

“I didn’t see it.” He scrunched his nose.

Okay, maybe she wouldn’t check. When she’d found Daisy the morning after her death, the room hadn’t smelled great. But from Edward’s face, it seemed the odor now rivaled that of the fridge. Funny that she hadn’t picked up on it in the hall.

Edward moved toward the front door. “Can I carry the box to the car for you?”

She tilted her head. Why was he suddenly in such a hurry to see her leave?

Another possible scenario whispered through her thoughts—Daisy’s long lost nephew, angry over her role in his adoption, killed her in revenge.

Kate snatched up the box. “I got it, thanks.” Could he hear the strain in her too-high voice?

“I’ll keep an eye out for that journal,” he said, holding open the front door.

A creepy bugs-under-the-collar sensation pitter-pattered across her neck as she stepped past him. Was it her imagination, or did he seem less grief-stricken than when she first arrived? The almost imperceptible curl of his lips reminded her of a cat with a mouse by the tail.

Some sleuth she turned out to be. Of all the people who might have had a motive to kill Daisy, Edward, as her only living relative, stood to gain the most.

And she’d just told him everything.

Tom drove a different route home—one that happened to take him past the late Miss Leacock’s house. From the
moment Kate left his office, her demands had niggled at his mind. He trusted the coroner’s report, but Kate was right. People could be bought. Tom knew that too well. And
if
the coroner falsified his report, Kate, by digging into Leacock’s death, might become the murderer’s next target.

Approaching Leacock’s street, Tom slowed his car. He’d take a quick look around, just to check.

The street was home mostly to retired couples and devoid of the after-school ball hockey games that plugged the streets around his dad’s place. Here and there a stray Tonka truck or trike, likely left behind by visiting grandkids, littered front yards. Otherwise, the area rivaled the pristine gated communities surrounding DC.

Tom parked in Leacock’s driveway, and the moment he opened his car door, Mrs. C, his former eighth-grade teacher who also happened to be Leacock’s neighbor, called out to him from her front yard.

“You missed them.” She lopped off a shriveled lilac blossom.

The potent fragrance hung heavy in the air like cheap perfume.

Giving the house a cursory glance, Tom meandered toward her. “Who might
them
be?”

“Daisy’s nephew and that friend of hers. If you ask me, they had as good an excuse as any to bump her off. Daisy’s not cold in her grave yet, and the girl’s already carting stuff out of the house.”

“Oh?” Tom propped his foot on the short picket fence separating the yards, and rested his elbow on his knee. “What girl?”

“Daisy’s research assistant. Daisy rescued her from the dregs of that old tea shop and
this
is the way she shows her
thanks.” Mrs. C sliced off a branch of lilacs, dispensing of the living with the dead.

Tom fought to rein in his impatience. “Are you referring to Kate Adams?” He hated to encourage Mrs. C’s fondness for gossip, but it sounded like Kate had already carried her personal investigation too far.

“Kate?” Mrs. C’s nose wrinkled. “Hmm, yes, that sounds right.”

“How did she get into Daisy’s house?”

“Daisy’s nephew let her in. They were in there a long time too.” Leaning toward the fence, Mrs. C dropped her voice. “You don’t think they were . . . you know . . . in the middle of the day?”

The intimation knotted Tom’s gut.

“Goodness.” Mrs. C tossed her loppers into her wheelbarrow and scooped up the blooms condemned to the compost pile. “What’s this world coming to? She’d seemed like such a nice girl too. Daisy brought her to church every Sunday, but she wasn’t there last Sunday. Nope.”

Tom ground his heel into the fence board. “Perhaps Kate was too heartbroken to face everybody so soon after Daisy’s death.”

Mrs. C lifted her chin and sniffed. “I suppose that could be.”

“You mentioned Edward was here?”

“Yes, I suppose he’ll move in soon. Daisy told me that other than a few small bequests, she left everything to him and that Kate girl.”

“Kate Adams?” Kate and Edward had both disclaimed any knowledge of a will. Tom tamped down a surge of resentment, loath to admit he’d let himself be duped.

“Oh my, yes. Daisy thought of her as a daughter. If not for Edward, Kate would have received the whole caboodle.”

The knot in Tom’s gut tightened. Since no copies of a will were found in Daisy’s house, nor any indication as to who her lawyer might be, Tom had watched the newspaper for notices, when apparently all he had to do was ask Mrs. C. “When did Daisy tell you about her will?”

“Why . . .” Mrs. C rubbed her chin, her eyes drifting skyward.

He suspected she remembered the day exactly but wanted to savor the moment of knowing more than the cops.

“I believe it was three weeks ago Tuesday. She said she’d been thinking about changing her will for some time and had an appointment with her lawyer the next day.”

“Did she happen to mention the name of her lawyer?”

“Oh my, yes. It’s Hilda’s boy. Dave McCleary. He has an office in Niagara Falls.” Mrs. C removed her gardening gloves and slapped them against her hand. “I’m surprised your dad didn’t tell you.”

Tom’s foot jerked from its perch on the fence rung. “My dad? Why would he know who Daisy’s lawyer was?”

“She visited your father before she made the decision. I guess she figured with him being a retired policeman, he’d be able to give her a balanced opinion. If you know what I mean.”

Tom grazed his hand across his jaw, covering a frown. He had no idea what she meant, but he intended to find out. The second he got home. If Dad withheld information pertinent to this investigation, he’d—

Tom turned toward his car. “I appreciate your time, Mrs. Crantz.”

Her voice skipped after him. “So the newspaper was wrong?”

“Pardon me?”

“About Daisy’s death being a suicide? You’re still investigating, aren’t you?” A conspiratorial glint lit her eyes. “Anyone who knew Daisy knows she’d never have killed herself. I told Hilda you planted that story in the newspaper so the murderer would think he got away with it and get cocky.”

Tom muffled a groan. His sense of humor when it came to armchair detectives and their overeager imaginations had died years ago. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but we have no reason to doubt the coroner’s findings.” No reason, except that the woman who’d demanded he reopen the investigation suddenly topped his list of suspects.

Not only did the impending change to Daisy’s will offer a compelling motive, but Kate had means and opportunity. So what was it about her that made him want to trust her?

Maybe it was because he couldn’t get her voice out of his head.
In my world, Detective, people stand by their friends.

He snorted. Yeah, in his world too. Until that world imploded, making it impossible to tell his friends from his enemies.

If Daisy’s research proved to be as promising as Kate had suggested, with Daisy out of the way, Kate would receive the glory and an inheritance. People killed for far less.

Forty minutes later, Tom parked in his dad’s driveway and grabbed the sack of groceries off the passenger seat. The grass needed cutting and flyers bulged from the mailbox. Dad probably hadn’t even stepped outside today.

Tom let himself in the front door. The sun wouldn’t set for three more hours, yet darkness hung over the house, broken only by the flickering light of a rerun on the TV. The canned laughter was a poor substitute for the real thing. Tom missed
hearing his dad’s belly-jiggling, laugh-till-you-cry kind of roar.

“I bought steaks for supper,” Tom called into the living room on his way through to the kitchen. Cheering up his dad with a good meal seemed like the best way to broach the subject of Daisy. Although officially the case was closed, Tom still wanted answers.

He shoved aside the breakfast dishes to make room on the table for the sack of groceries. Closing the cereal box, he crammed it into the cupboard and took the bowls to the sink where last night’s dinner plates lay crusted over with dried pork and beans.

Apparently, Dad hadn’t bothered with KP duty or lunch.

Tom dropped the bowls on top of the plates and marched into the living room, where he turned off the TV and opened the curtains. “I’m trying to help you, but you have to want to help yourself.”

Dad thumped the recliner’s footrest to the floor and glared. For Tom, looking at his dad was like looking at an age-enhanced picture of himself, the kind the department created of missing persons. The broad shoulders, now stooped; the square chin, now marred by folds of skin beneath it; the dark hair, now salted with gray. Yep, his own physical features were all gifts from his dad. Unfortunately, so was the mulelike stubbornness.

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