Read Lucy and the Valentine Verdict Online

Authors: Rae Davies

Tags: #amateur sleuth, #cozy mystery, #montana, #dog mystery, #funny mystery, #comic mystery, #antiques mystery, #holiday novella

Lucy and the Valentine Verdict (7 page)

BOOK: Lucy and the Valentine Verdict
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He grinned. “You might want to watch bending
over like that, at least when you’re around decent people.”

He moved to grab me, telling me that at the
moment, he was willing to be plopped into the less-than-decent
category.

Still working off the effects of the
previous evening and a little stressed at the knowledge that I was
on my way to face my accuser, I was not willing to join him there.
I side-stepped and gave him a no-nonsense stare.

He sighed and fell back onto the bed. “It
was the note. I don’t think it was part of the play.”

Interesting, but also disappointing. The
note had been the one piece of real evidence from last night. That
did, however, explain Lady York’s sudden change in plans, cutting
the evening short.

“Why’d she ask you about it?”

“She knew I was a detective. She seemed to
be under some kind of delusion that that meant I was responsible
for solving any slight that occurred, and since it was found in
your cleavage...” He shrugged. “People think they can ask police to
do anything. I once had a woman call and ask me to arrest a store
owner for selling her 12-year-old daughter pop.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“She was supposed to be on a diet.”

And I thought my mother was bad.

“I didn’t put the note in my cleavage,” I
stated.

He widened his eyes. “Then who did?”

I rolled mine. “No one. Mandrake just acted
like he pulled it out.”

Peter’s face went into detective mode. “Why
would he do that?”

“To put blame on me, I guessed. He seemed
pretty determined to paint me as the murderer.”

“So, you think the butler did it?” Peter
waggled his brows.

I frowned. I’d forgotten for a minute that
we had a bet and pride riding on who solved the crime. Deciding I’d
given away too much, I picked up my runner and wrapped it around my
shoulders. “I’ll see you there,” I called, walking out the door to
face my accuser and hunt down a make-believe killer.

o0o

Mandrake was already in the kitchen, filling
silver stands with mini quiches and croissants that looked a lot
like the one I’d already eaten.

He was not, however, in uniform.

Lady York walked in, dressed in jeans and a
deceptively simple cotton top that probably cost more than my
Jeep.

She stared at me. “Oh, didn’t you get my
note?”

Having survived high school, I could feel a
set-up coming. “The one that said brunch was at 11?”

She tilted her head and placed the tips of
her fingers next to her mouth. “Oh, did I forget to mention that we
decided not to dress in costume this morning? I didn’t want anyone
to be uncomfortable, wearing dirty smelly clothes, you know.” She
wrinkled her nose as if my dress or I was giving off an unsavory
odor.

I moved, ready to head back to the
cabin.

She waved a stack of napkins my direction.
“No time to change. The guests will be here any minute. You must
have forgotten that you and Mandrake were to arrive early.” She
smiled, but I wasn’t fooled. Her teeth glimmered like daggers.

Her suspicion of me seemed to have morphed
into out and out dislike overnight. I considered being all Zen and
letting it go... for about as long as it took me to open my
mouth.

“I didn’t take your watch. If you really
think I did, you should call the sheriff.” I stood as tall as my
five-foot-two-inch frame would allow.

She snorted. “As if that would do any good.
I heard your boyfriend was talking to the deputy sheriff already
this morning. I’m sure he’s set things up so anything I say won’t
be taken seriously.”

“Peter wouldn’t do that.” Annoying as I
found it at times, my boyfriend’s job came first. He might turn a
blind eye to a “hot” croissant, but that was his limit. “If he
thought I stole something, he’d turn me in himself.” The words came
out a little prouder than perhaps made sense, but they were true,
and I realized I was proud of my boyfriend. Coming from a long line
of people with somewhat squishy morals, his were, while frustrating
at times, also reassuring.

“Yes, well, you would say that.”

My not-as-upstanding-morals-as-Peter’s
wavered. My hand fisted at my side.

Unaware of my weakening, she continued, “I’m
surprised you’re still here. I thought for certain that you would
disappear overnight. It makes me wonder what else you hope to
accomplish here.” She stared at me as if her words had some hidden
meaning that I would most certainly get.

I didn’t. I stared back.

We stood there like two stubborn eight year
olds until Mandrake cleared his throat. “I think I hear someone in
the dining room.”

Lady York frowned. “I said eleven.” She
turned on her heel and strode out of the kitchen.

I shifted my gaze to Mandrake who, on Lady
York’s exit, was happily popping a mini quiche into his mouth. He
held the tray out to me.

Normally, I would have welcomed the small
gesture of disobedience, but he was now on my not-to-be-trusted
list.

“What’s on your cards for today?” I asked.
His eyes widened and I realized that my tone had revealed more of
my resentment than I would have liked.

“Same as everyone. Brunch, big reveal.” He
turned his back to me on the last, making me think he was hiding
something.

I circled around him so we were facing
again. “No, I mean literally... your cards. The ones for the
mystery weekend. Last night they all seemed targeted at me.”

His eyes grew again. “You’re upset by that?
Someone has to be the killer. It isn’t personal.”

“I’m not–” I cut off my reply. Honestly, I
didn’t know if I was the killer or not. “What about the note?”

“What about it? It was in the envelope, with
my cards.” He tilted his head. “Seriously, I was just playing my
role.”

Except Lady York had seemed surprised by the
poem. “Who gave you your envelope?”

“Lady York. Same as everyone else.”

Lady York had left the envelopes on the
table, next to the now missing watch. It was possible that the same
person who took the watch also switched out Mandrake’s envelope.
But why add in the poem and why target me?

Mandrake popped another quiche in his mouth.
Chewing, he asked: “Did you take it?”

Lost in my own thoughts, his question
startled me. “What?”

“The watch. You were pretty interested in
it.”

A little shocked that he would pose the
question so bluntly, I stared at him.

Apparently undisturbed by my lack of
response, he picked up another quiche. “What do you think it’s
worth? You should know, right? You said you own an antique
shop.”

“That doesn’t make me an expert in
everything.”

He made a face.

I relented. “To the right buyer? A thousand?
It was fairly unique.”

He stopped chewing. “That much? But it’s so
old.”

It was my turn to make the face. “Yes, it
is.”

“That’s a felony. You could get real time
for that.”

His concern was endearing, or would have
been if I hadn’t thought it was coming mainly from a place of
morbid fascination at my plight.

The kitchen door swung open and my new
friend and fellow martini guzzler walked in. Dressed in a jersey
tracksuit, Mrs. Peabody looked completely relaxed, if a little out
of place.

She milled around the kitchen island,
breaking off a piece of quiche crust and stirring the fruit salad.
“All grapes,” she commented. “Typical.” After picking out the lone
strawberry, she walked to the refrigerator and pulled out a pitcher
of orange juice and another of tomato juice.

“Mr. Blore is back on bar duty. I told him
I’d get the juice.” With a pitcher in each hand, she turned and
looked at me. Her eyes roamed down my wrinkled maid’s uniform. When
she looked up, there was a question in her eyes.

“I didn’t get the memo.”

“Ah...” She shook her head. “I swear that
woman never left high school. What are you waiting for? Go change.”
She raised a pitcher to emphasize her words. Orange juice slopped
onto her arm.

I glanced at the dining room door.

Mrs. Peabody sat down the pitcher and licked
the juice off her arm. “You realize you don’t work for her, right?
Besides, she called you out last night for no reason at all. Screw
her.”

She was right. I took her advice and
scurried back to our cabin.

 

o0o

Peter and Kiska were gone when I got to the
cabin. Since I hadn’t passed them on the short trip from the main
house, I assumed they had gone for another walk. I did, however,
check the parking lot to make sure Peter’s truck was still
there.

I didn’t think he’d desert me completely,
but I wouldn’t put it past him to run an “errand” or two that took
up a big portion of this morning’s activities.

The truck was still where he had left it,
and on further investigation I saw new man and malamute tracks in
the snow heading toward some trees. So I went inside to change,
reassured that I was not going to be left alone with Mrs. Peabody
as my only ally.

Ten minutes later, dressed in jeans and with
cleavage fully covered, I returned to the main house.

Peter and Kiska were standing by the front
window, flanked by Emily Brent and Dr. Armstrong.

My boyfriend was dressed in his usual garb
of jeans and cotton shirt. Of course, the extent of his costume the
night before had been the monocle, and knowing Peter he’d left it
behind fully expecting everyone else to still be dressed in their
costumes.

Everyone else had gathered in the living
area too. The buffet that had held the disappearing watch the night
before was now loaded with food, and the bar, with Mr. Blore
manning it, was fully stocked with the makings of mimosas and
bloody marys.

I eyed the banker’s handiwork, but decided
to avoid that particular dog’s hair, at least for a while. Instead,
I followed Miss Claythorne to the buffet and placed a very ladylike
serving of two mini quiches in the center of my china plate.

Feeling quite saintly for my restraint, I
went to sit next to Mrs. Peabody on the couch.

She eyed my plate. “Look at you, eating like
a bird.” She elbowed me in the side and laughed.

Okay, after the croissant, I wasn’t being
that saintly. Still... I could have taken more.

With a wink, Mrs. Peabody picked up her own
quiche and nibbled at the crust.

Everyone milled around, getting food and
drinks. Sir Arthur, Mandrake, Miss Claythorne, Peter and Dr.
Armstrong moved into the dining room to sit at an actual table,
while the rest of us perched on the couch and chairs in the living
room. After finishing off her plate, Mrs. Peabody lifted herself
from the couch and announced that she was going in search of a
bathroom.

At her exit, Lady York pulled a side chair
up next to my spot on the couch. “So, you live in Helena?” she
prompted. Relieved that we were being given a break from character
while we ate and that she seemed to have stepped back from her hard
core suspicion, I set my plate on my lap and tried to look friendly
and forgiving.

“I do.”

She took a bloody mary from Mr. Blore and
bobbed a piece of celery up and down in the glass. “Where did you
say you lived before that?”

I hadn’t, but the question seemed innocent
enough. “Missouri. That’s where I’m from.”

“Oh...” she nodded. “And...
family
brought you to Montana?”

Well, family or rather my desire for some
space from it might have sent me on my way, but I couldn’t say it
brought
me to Montana. I didn’t feel the need to share that
much about me though. So, I made some polite noises about wanting
to experience something different and took a bite of quiche.

“And your business in Helena, is it doing
well?”

“Well, enough.” Again, I couldn’t see how
this was any of her business or why she would care.

“But a young woman alone, building a
business... it has to be tough. I’m sure you’re always looking
for... financial stability.”

Financial stability was not something I
could claim for longer than maybe two weeks at a time, but now I
could see where this was going.

“I did not steal your watch. I’m dating a
police detective! You don’t think he would notice if it turned up
in my shop?” My outrage was enough that I would have stood, but my
butt seemed to have sunk a bit too far into the cushions. I
struggled like a flailing trout until finally giving up and falling
back onto the seat.

Her eyes narrowed in an apprising manner.
“This isn’t about the watch.”

I didn’t know what else it could be about,
but I didn’t have a chance to find out. From somewhere in the house
a bell tolled.

Lady York gave me one last laser-sharp stare
and then snapped back into character. “Sir Arthur,” she called. “I
do believe it is time for our party to resume.”

As everyone moved back into the living room,
Lady York handed out a new stack of envelopes. Mine contained one
note.
You are not the killer.

Well, that was a relief. I slipped the note
back into the envelope and looked around to see if I could catch
any telling expressions on anyone else’s face. What I noticed was
that everyone else had a lot more to read than I did.

Mr. Blore, still standing behind the bar,
pulled something from his pocket and mopped at his face.

I frowned. Was that a...

Sir Arthur stepped into the center of the
room. “Mr. Blore, is that a stocking that you have?”

Mr. Blore looked down and blinked as if
surprised to find the piece of hosiery in his hand.

Dr. Armstrong strode forward and jerked it
away. “It’s monogrammed!” he announced.

Mrs. Peabody wandered back into the room.
Standing hidden from view, she made circular motions around her
ears.

She was right. This production was bordering
on insane.

BOOK: Lucy and the Valentine Verdict
4.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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