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Authors: Karen Kelly

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Gunns & Roses

BOOK: Gunns & Roses
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Gunns & Roses

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

Gunns & Roses / by Karen Kelly

p. cm.

I. Title

2012910977

________________________________________

AnniesMysteries.com

800-282-6643

Annie’s Attic Mysteries

Series Editors: Ken and Janice Tate

1

“LeeAnn will never believe this without proof!” Annie Dawson positioned her digital camera to capture in pixels the bumper crop of vegetables spread before her—green beans, cucumbers, summer squash, and cherry tomatoes.

A few snapshots later she repositioned herself to include part of her home, Grey Gables, in additional photos. “There. Now she can’t protest that this vegetable patch was from someone else’s garden.”

Annie could hardly blame her daughter for the expected disbelief. Every day since planting the garden, she had anticipated something killing off the plants before harvesttime. This, indeed, had happened each time she had tried growing vegetables while raising her daughter in Texas. LeeAnn had taken to teasing her mother anytime they entered a home-and-garden store with, “Mom, just step away from the veggie seeds!” Who knew that moving to Stony Point, Maine, would make such a difference in her vegetable cultivation ability?

Just wait until you open the homemade pickles I send you
, Annie thought, an impish grin lighting her face as she tucked the camera into a pocket of her jeans. Both hands on her hips, she surveyed the bounty, considering how to gather the day’s harvest.

A gentle breeze off the harbor at Stony Point teased the soft curls of her blonde-gray hair. Stony Point had become her hometown since the death of her grandmother, Elizabeth “Betsy” Holden, and Annie’s inheritance of Grey Gables, her grandparents’ Victorian home. The notoriously changeable Maine weather was serving up a fine August day on a sunbeam platter. But it would be wise to pick the vegetables before her adopted state decided to change the menu.

“That’s it!” Annie turned on a heel and strode toward the back door of the house. Pausing to stomp any loose dirt from her shoes, she hoped the harvest basket she had just remembered seeing in the attic was as large as she was thinking.

The screen door clicked behind her; a gray cat looked up from lapping water out of a bowl in the kitchen. The word lapping didn’t do justice to the dainty procedure, though. To Annie it always looked like Boots, Betsy’s cat that Annie had also inherited along with the Holden estate, merely lowered her head near the dish, and water droplets leapt nimbly onto her tongue. Not once had she ever seen water dripping from a whisker or found water on the floor. It wasn’t that Boots never caused some occasional mayhem, but water was never an element.

The cat stared at Annie as she crossed the kitchen on her way to the hallway. Annie paused only long enough to stoop down for a quick stroke on the top of Boots’s head. Before the cat could rise up on all fours, she had already moved past. “I’m on a mission, Boots! There will be time for play later.” Had she not been so focused, Annie might have felt the cat’s stare pierce her back like a Lilliputian spear.

Up two flights of stairs, Annie paused as she entered the attic, trying to remember where the harvest basket was perched. A vague impression urged her to the left along the wall, as much as the stacks of miscellany and furniture jumbled there allowed. “Ah, that’s right. I moved it when I came up for the garden stakes.” She took another step forward, looking for the battered side table on which she had placed it, but Annie halted with a jerk as her peripheral vision caught a glimpse of gray fur.

“No, no, no, Boots and I will not have more mice in our home,” she cried. “Grey Gables is not a hostel for roaming rodents.” Annie gingerly reached over to a nearby shelf to grab the cracked pottery bowl resting on it. Trying to stalk as much like her cat as possible, Annie flipped the bowl over to capture her prey as she came closer. She bent lower, preparing to spring forward before the mouse could run. Squinting, she placed the bowl on the floor near her feet.

“What on earth?” Annie said aloud.

As she bent closer, it became more obvious that whatever was on the floor was not living. And it was not a mouse. Pushing an old three-legged stool aside, Annie could see more of the wayward creature, which was actually … a purse. The strangest purse she’d ever seen.

Annie picked it up, surprised at the sleek softness of the fur. Its shape almost formed a circle. At the top, an interlacing pattern decorated a sterling silver clasp in serious need of polishing. Three tassels adorned the front. Opening the clasp, she peered inside and then reached in to pull out a number of silver bands. Annie held one of the bands up to the light. Corroded like the clasp, she could still tell the piece was etched with an intricate design. After setting the band on the stool, she examined the rest of the bands and found them to be three different sizes, but all were etched. Even with the bright summer light streaming in the eyebrow windows Annie could not discern what the lines of etching formed.

Sitting back on her heels, she counted eight silver pieces cradled in the palm of her hand. Annie cast a bemused look heavenward. “You’ve done it again, Gram!” she said. “Another mystery left in the attic for me.” As a child spending summers at Charles and Betsy Holden’s Maine home while her parents traveled on missionary work overseas, Annie had spent many an afternoon playing in the attic. It became her private magical land, filled with curiosities. Now that she was a grandmother herself, the attic continued to bring excitement of almost magical proportions into her life.

The mysteries from the attic over the past few years had provided much-needed diversion since the loss of her husband, Wayne, to a massive heart attack. Annie carefully slipped the silver bands back into the purse and stood, thinking of how unmoored she had felt after selling the car dealership she and Wayne had built into a thriving business in Texas and for which she had been the bookkeeper. With both her husband and her work gone—and with LeeAnn now married and a mother—Annie had almost drowned in the void.

The inheritance of Grey Gables upon Gram’s death had been the lifeboat back to the land of the living for Annie. Her days filled again with purposeful activity—renovating the old house, renewing her relationship with her childhood friend, Alice MacFarlane, who lived in the carriage house next door to Grey Gables, and immersing herself in the community of Stony Point. The transition had brought its fair share of obstacles and frustrations, but it had also brought joy. And apparently, it had also endowed Annie with a new green thumb for vegetable gardening.

Smiling, Annie found the side table where the harvest basket was perched and carried it and the purse downstairs. Placing the purse on a side table in the living room, she took the basket into the kitchen for cleaning. While wiping the basket with a spray of homemade wood cleaner, Annie hummed to distract herself from the thought of the purse’s awaiting mystery. Being a gardener required discipline and disciplined she would be. So she hummed
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
and redirected her thoughts to the bean and cucumber plants awaiting harvest; that would free up more growing room. She would have plenty of time afterward to polish up those silver bands and see what design lay beneath the tarnish.

With the basket hanging from the crook of her arm, Annie returned to the sunny patch. She had just placed the basket on the ground and bent over the first bean plant when the hedges bordering the side of her yard rustled. Alice emerged through a small gap between two bushes.

Annie straightened and waved at her friend. “Alice, come see my summer miracle!”

The morning sunlight caught Alice’s auburn hair, burnishing it with gold as she strode across the grass. She stopped at the edge of the garden, examining it from one end to the other and then exaggerating a frown. “What, no beanstalk soaring higher than the clouds?”

“I said miracle, not fairy tale.” Annie grinned and flourished her hand over the plants. “Can you possibly
not
be amazed at the fact that I’ve managed to not kill off my vegetables? Look at all these green beans and cukes!”

Alice’s blue eyes opened wide. “Oh,
that
miracle. How could I have missed it?” She couldn’t hold back a chuckle.

“Well, it’s before noon. Your brain doesn’t generally fire on all cylinders so early,” Annie teased back.

“Guilty as charged, though the coffee should be kicking in any time now.” Alice bent over to get a closer look at the beans dangling from a plant. “These will be good in a tasty pasta salad! Need some help picking?”

Annie nodded. “Absolutely. There’s a pile of cucumbers that needs harvesting too. I still can’t believe how well everything is growing, and I know I have you to thank for it. If you hadn’t mentioned where Gram kept her gardening notes hidden in the library, I’d probably be mourning yet another vegetable garden gone bad.” She gently stabilized a plant between two fingers and pinched a long slender bean off with her thumb and forefinger.

“It would have been shameful to let all the gardening wisdom Betsy gained over the years disappear from your family,” Alice said, selecting a bean plant and starting to pick. “She was always making adjustments each growing season to find out what worked best. Honestly, your grandmother was a one-woman house-and-garden network. I’m so thankful she told me about the notes. Who knows how long it would have taken for you to just stumble across them, tucked in the back of that drawer.”

Annie started to tell her friend about the purse she had found in the attic earlier, but she then thought better of it. One whiff of a mystery and her garden help would desert her in an instant to look at the find. Instead, she told Alice about the photos she planned to email to LeeAnn and the pickles she planned to make.

“Did you find Betsy’s pickle recipes in her recipe box?” asked Alice. She closed her eyes. “Mmm, my mouth is watering just thinking of them! Labor Day just wasn’t official without Betsy’s pickles at the picnic.” Like Annie, Alice still missed Betsy Holden terribly. After her marriage to the charming but chronically unfaithful John MacFarlane had crumbled to pieces, and she had moved into the carriage house next to Grey Gables, Annie’s grandmother had been a steady source of love and wisdom for the younger woman.

Annie eyed the plant she was harvesting for any wayward bugs like the copper-colored Asiatic Garden Beetle or for any holes gnawed into the leaves. “Yes, I found it. If I don’t manage to kill the pickling cucumbers or mess up the recipe, I’ll be sure to put a jar or two aside for Labor Day. Of course, I have to send some down to LeeAnn and her family.” Annie smiled, thinking of LeeAnn and her husband Herb Sorensen and their darling twin children, John and Joanna. Pleased to see that the plant showed no signs of insect invasion, she reminded Alice to be on the lookout as well.

“If today is any indication, you’ll have enough cucumbers for an army of pickle jars,” Alice declared, peering over at the abundant cucumber plants as she dropped a handful of the beans into the harvest basket. “Maybe even enough to pay your field help in pickles.”

Annie moved to the next plant and settled into a rhythm of support, pinch, support, pinch. “If my field hand continues to show up to help, I’m sure it can be arranged. I don’t want to keep you from your own work, though.” A self-employed consultant for Divine Décor, a home-decor company, and Princessa, a jewelry company, for many years, Alice worked hard in her business, and Annie kept herself mindful of not intruding on her friend’s work hours.

“That’s not likely to be an issue,” Alice assured Annie. “August is usually my semi-vacation month anyway—the calm before autumn and the Christmas rush. Besides, who doesn’t want to spend more hours outdoors in this weather?”

Annie released another handful of beans on top of the mound already crowding one side of the basket. “This Texas transplant has fallen in love with August in Maine. In Texas, August is even more brutal than July. A cool front might plunge the temperature all the way down to 91 degrees. It’s not a month for comfortable outdoor activity.” She squatted down by the last of the bean plants. “Do you have any plans for fun during your semi-vacation?”

“Not yet,” Alice answered as she peered at the undersides of leaves to check for signs of insects. “Want to tag along if I come up with anything interesting?”

One last bean separated from its stem and rested in Annie’s hand. “Sure, as long as it doesn’t involve leaving town for more than a day or two. The garden is beginning to produce too well to neglect it now.” Emptying her hands once more, she turned toward the cucumbers. “Now, it’s on to the cucumbers.”

“You know, if the cucumbers pickle well, you can branch out to pickling other things—crab apples, peaches, beets, peppers,” Alice suggested, as she picked from the insect-free bean plant. “I’m particularly fond of pickled peaches, just in case you’re wondering.”

Annie raised an eyebrow. “Do you see any peach trees here? Or crab apple?”

“There are a couple of farms not too far from here that have pick-your-own days in August.” A dreamy look came over Alice’s face. “So delicious!”

“You might want to wait and see if my pickling skills are up to par before turning me loose on peaches.” Annie moved the harvest basket closer to the cucumber plants and started at the end of a row, looking for cucumbers that were dark green and firm, with the spiny points smoothed out somewhat but not yet flat. Mushy pickles would definitely not do justice to Gram’s recipe.

Alice carried her last handful of beans over to the basket. “Well, your success at duplicating Betsy’s rose hip jelly recipe gives me hope for the pickling.” She turned her attention to the second row of cucumber vines. Spotting a perfect candidate, she freed it from the vine. The two friends picked in silence for a while, thoroughly content in their chore as the pleasant breeze softened the warm sunshine.

Alice looked down at the small mound of cucumbers beside her, and making a pouch with her oversized T-shirt, filled it with the vegetables to carry to the basket. “This was one of Betsy’s baskets, wasn’t it? It looks familiar, though it’s been a few years since I’ve seen it.”

Glancing at the basket and the bounty her friend had helped her pick, Annie answered, “Yes, I brought it down from the attic earlier, knowing it would be useful if the garden continues to thrive.” She paused. “It wasn’t the only thing I brought down.” Annie paused again, a mischievous light dancing into her eyes.

BOOK: Gunns & Roses
2.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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