Read Hope Callaghan - Garden Girls 06 - Magnolia Mansion Mysteries Online

Authors: Hope Callaghan

Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Senior Sleuths - Michigan

Hope Callaghan - Garden Girls 06 - Magnolia Mansion Mysteries (6 page)

BOOK: Hope Callaghan - Garden Girls 06 - Magnolia Mansion Mysteries
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Chapter 6

 

Gloria’s first stop was the hardware store,
Nails and Knobs
.  She parked at the end of main street, in front of the store and right next to Brian’s SUV.  She slid out of Anabelle and headed up the steps.

She opened the front door and stepped inside. A gentle breeze brushed past her.  Ceiling fans whirled silently above.  Gloria loved how Brian had retained the original charm of the old hardware store.  It was like taking a step back in time.

She started down the center aisle and caught a glimpse of him back behind the counter.  He grinned when he spotted Gloria.  “I’ve been wondering how long it would take for you to stop by.”

Gloria hopped up on the barstool in front of the counter and dropped her purse on top.  “You don’t say.”

Brian nodded.  He turned to the small counter behind him. He grabbed a clean cup from the shelf.  He poured a cup of coffee and set it in front of Gloria.  She took a sip and eyed him over the rim.

Brian wrapped his hands around his own mug and leaned forward.  “You’re here to pick my brain,” he guessed.

“Sort of…”

She reached inside her purse and pulled out her phone.  She clicked on the picture of the lock that was hanging on Andrea’s basement door.  She tapped the screen and made the picture as large as possible before handing the phone to Brian.

“I need to pick this lock or find the key,” she told him.

Brian squinted at the screen.  He tipped the phone to the side and into the overhead light.  “Well, I’ll be darned.”

He scrolled to the next picture before stopping at the third and final picture.  The one she had taken of the back.  “Illinois Lock Company,” he muttered.

“Is that what it says?” Gloria hadn’t been able to read the small print on the back.

He handed the phone back to her. “You’re never gonna believe this. Follow me.”  He signaled her to the back, through the door marked
“Employees Only.”

Gloria hopped down from the stool and followed behind. She had never been in the back of the hardware store.  They squeezed in between two rows of cabinets, crammed full of gadgets and gizmos. 

He peered at one of the shelves just over Gloria’s head.  It was loaded with all kinds of locks. He stuck his hand on the shelf and reached around. “It’s in here somewhere.  I just saw it the other day.”

He shoved his hand behind a cardboard box and plucked out a lock.  “Aha!”  He pulled the lock down and held it out for Gloria to inspect. It was the same exact lock that was on Andrea’s basement door!  “This it?”

“I do believe it is!” Gloria took the lock from him.  “Is there a key?”

“I think so.” Brian reached up and felt around the shelf.  “Here it is.”  He pulled his hand out and in it was a silver key.  It reminded Gloria of a skeleton key, except this one was thicker and not as long.  He handed it to her.

She turned it over.  “Do you think it will fit Andrea’s lock?”

He shrugged. “It’s worth a try.”

Gloria looked back at the shelves and the array of locks and stacks of keys.  “I wonder if the Johnsons bought their lock here at the store.”

The front doorbell tinkled.  Someone had come in.  Gloria followed Brian back out to the front.  He closed the door behind them. “That would make sense.”

She nodded.  Her detective radar was in high gear.  She still had to talk to Doc Decker to see what he remembered about the mysterious people who lived in the mansion. 

She added George Ford to her list. George was the original owner of the hardware store.   

Gloria glanced at her watch and then reached for her purse.  “Thanks for loaning me the key.  I’m running by Andrea’s tomorrow morning.  I’ll try it then.”

Brian nodded.  “Have you met Andrea’s parents yet?”

Brian and Andrea had been dating for a few months now.  So far, the relationship had Gloria’s seal of approval.  Brian was turning out to be what Gloria considered excellent husband material:  Hardworking, motivated, smart, funny, handsome. 

“Yep. I met them this morning. Right after we discovered the body in the dumpster,” she added.

Brian respected Gloria’s opinion. “I’m curious….” He was about to ask her what she thought, but the customer was standing at the counter, waiting to speak with him.  “I’ll get back with you later.”  Gloria nodded and headed for the door. 

Next on her list was a stop at the Quik Stop grocery to pick up a couple things for her dinner with Paul.  Her heart raced at the thought of spending the evening with him. 

With a bounce in her step, Gloria headed down the sidewalk, to the other end of main street and the Quik Stop.

Her cheerful mood abruptly ended when she stepped inside the store.  Sally Keane was behind the counter, waiting on a customer.  She was grumbling about something. Loudly.

Determined to grab her purchases and make a quick escape before Sally sucked her in with all her moaning and groaning, she grabbed a large bag of shredded cheddar cheese and a jar of olive oil.  By the time she reached the checkout counter, the other customer had left.

Gloria was trapped.  There was no way to avoid the inevitable conversation.  “How are you today, Sally?” She cringed inwardly as she realized that was the wrong thing to ask…

“Well, now that you mention it, I’m having a bad day.  I was up all night with gut-wrenching stomach cramps.  I’m not sure if the chicken I had at the restaurant last night was bad or if I’m coming down with something.” Sally clutched her stomach and moaned.  “Oh, there it goes again.”

Gloria took a step back. “I’m sorry to hear that.” Gloria hoped it was nothing.  If not, the woman was either getting sick or had eaten something bad at Dot’s place and in that case, everyone who came in the grocery store was going to hear every little detail.

Sally wasn’t finished. “On top of that, my car wouldn’t start this morning.” She put the cheese and olive oil in a small paper bag and took Gloria’s money.  “I was late for work.”

Brian Sellers owned the grocery store, along with the hardware store, and the pharmacy on main street.  Gloria was certain Brian would cut Sally some slack if he knew she was having car problems.

Sally shoved the bills in the register and handed Gloria her change. “I need another job.  This one just doesn’t pay enough or give me enough hours.”

“Maybe you should look for something in Green Springs,” Gloria suggested.  Green Springs was a larger town, not far from Belhaven.

“But that’s a long drive, especially in the winter,” Sally whined.

Gloria shook her head and tightened her jaw.  There was no pleasing this woman!  She wondered what on earth Officer Joe saw in her…

As Gloria stepped back out onto the sidewalk, she secretly hoped the woman
would
find another job!  One that was far, far away from Belhaven so she wouldn’t have to listen to her moaning and groaning any longer!

Gloria hopped in her car and headed back to the farm. 

Back in the kitchen, she cleared everything off the table and reached for her apron.  She rolled up her sleeves. It was time to fix her chicken cheddar cheese bake.  It was a family favorite for as long as Gloria could remember and something she’d never fixed for Paul before. 

Gloria switched on the portable radio that sat on the corner shelf behind the kitchen table.  Christian music filled the air and Gloria hummed along as she worked. 

The afternoon flew by and before Gloria knew it, it was almost time for Paul to arrive.  She untied her apron and hung it on the hook near the door.  She headed to the bathroom to freshen up. 

She made a final comb through her hair when she heard a light tap on the back door.  Gloria patted her hair one last time and practically floated to the kitchen. Her heart fluttered at the thought of seeing Paul. 

As she rounded the corner of the dining room, she could see his tall frame fill the doorway.  She flung the door open and stepped aside.

The smile on his face matched Gloria’s own.  He leaned down to kiss her lips. When the kiss ended, Gloria leaned her head on his chest, closed her eyes and took a deep breath.  She had missed the smell of him. The feel of him. His voice.  Tears stung the back of her eyes.  She blinked them back quickly as he pulled away.

He tilted his head and gazed into her eyes.  “I hope this means you’re happy to see me,” he teased.

Gloria gulped the air and swallowed hard. “Yes, of course,” her voice broke.

He put his arms around her again and held her close.  He laid his cheek on top of her head.  His deep voice was like music to her ears. “I sure have missed my girl,” he said.

When he finally pulled away again, he held her at arm’s length.  “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you, I almost forgot what you looked like.”

She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. “Same here,” she shot back.

He fumbled inside his pocket and pulled out a small, wrapped box. A velvety red ribbon was tied around it. He handed it to her. “For you.” 

She looked down at the small, wrapped package in her hand.  “What’s this?”

“Go ahead.  Open it.”

Gloria sunk down in the kitchen chair.  Paul pulled out the chair next to hers and leaned in. 

The box was almost too pretty to unwrap. She could tell right away that it was a jewelry box. 

She untied the red ribbon and slipped off the lid. Inside the box was a blue sapphire ring. Diamonds surrounded the sapphire and dotted both sides of the band.  The ring was beautiful. 

Gloria had never had a sapphire before.  She pulled the ring from the velvet box and slipped it on her ring finger.  It fit perfectly.

“This is beautiful,” she gushed.  She stretched her arm out and admired it from a distance.  The stones twinkled under the bright kitchen light. 

Paul grabbed her hand and brought it to his lips.  A warm flush of heat rushed from the top of her head to the tip of her toes. 

Paul didn’t release her hand.  Instead, he pulled her close and kissed her. She started to pull back but he wasn’t ready to let her go.  He placed his hand behind her head and pulled her even closer, deepening the kiss.

When they finally separated, Gloria’s cheeks were flushed and her breathing uneven. 

Paul’s eyes twinkled. “Now
that
was a kiss,” he told her.

Gloria was unnerved.  The intensity of the kiss left her breathless. 

She jumped to her feet and nearly fell flat on her face in an effort to make a hasty retreat.  It was the most intimate kiss they’d shared to date.  One that promised so much more. If only…

Paul could tell the kiss had her flustered.  Heck, it had flustered him! He decided to change the subject. “The kids are moving out,” he announced.

Gloria tugged on the bottom of her silk blouse and spun around to face him.  “They are?”

He nodded and grinned.  “A week from tomorrow.”

Before she could reply, the timer on the stove went off.  The cheddar chicken was ready. 

Paul hopped out of his chair and headed for the oven. He turned the timer off and grabbed the potholder on top of the stove. He opened the oven door and pulled the baked chicken from the rack.  He set the glass dish on the glass cooktop. 

There was another baking dish still in the oven. This one was full of roasted red potatoes.  He pulled it out and set it next to the chicken.  His mouth watered. “This looks delicious.”

Gloria popped a pan of rolls in the hot oven.  “We have a few minutes to let these bake.  I’ll pour a couple lemonades and we can wait out on the porch.” She didn’t wait for an answer as she grabbed two glasses and filled them with ice. 

After she poured the drinks, they stepped outside and settled into the rockers.  Mally followed them out. She raced off across the yard when she spied a red squirrel trying to find its way into the bird feeder.

Gloria was beginning to wonder if his kids had any intention of ever moving out.  They had settled in quite nicely.  Gloria had finally met them a few weeks earlier when Paul invited her over for a cookout.  They were nice enough.  Very friendly.  Very polite.  “So what made them change their mind?”

Paul grinned mischievously.  “I got a cat.”

Gloria was confused.  “What does that have to do with motivating them to move?”

Paul sipped his drink.  “Tina’s allergic to cats.” Tina was Paul’s daughter-in-law.

Gloria shook her head, but she was smiling.  “Paul.  That’s terrible!” It reminded her of something her mother used to say:
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”

He rubbed his finger along the rim of the glass.  “I admit it was a little underhanded but I was nearing the point of desperation.”

He looked up.  “Dorito is fitting right in at the farm.”

“So how’s Tina holding up with the allergies?”

He shook his head.  “Not good at all.  She’s pretty much confined to the bedroom – the only place where the cat is not allowed.”

He sighed.  “I hated to do it, but I was running out of ideas.”

“I told her Dorito was a stray I found down by the station and I didn’t have the heart to leave him behind, which was true.”

BOOK: Hope Callaghan - Garden Girls 06 - Magnolia Mansion Mysteries
8.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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