Authors: Patricia H. Rushford
Copyright Â© 1994 by Patricia Rushford
First ebook produced in 2014 by Blackstone Audio, Inc.
All rights reserved
Olga Bond 1912-1993
In loving memory
of my eighty-one-year-old aunt who would have loved Jennie
PATRICIA RUSHFORD is an award-winning writer, speaker, and teacher who has published” almost twenty books and numerous articles, including
What Kids Need Most in a Mom
and her first young adult novel,
. She is a registered nurse and has a master's degree in counseling from Western Evangelical Seminary. She and her husband, Ron, live in Washington state and have two grown children, six grandchildren, and lots of nephews and nieces.
Pat has been reading mysteries for as long as she can remember and is delighted to be writing a series of her own. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and Director of the summer conference Oregon Association of Christian Writers.
“You will help Allison, won't you, Jen?” Lisa capped her emerald polish and blew on her nails.
Uneasiness slithered through Jennie like a herd of lizards. The more adventurous part of her wanted to say,
Sure, I'll help. We'll have the creep who's been bugging Allison in jail before your nails are dry.
The other partâ¦the one housing her intuition and what Mom would term good sense, argued,
Danger! No way! Stay out of it!
Jennie sighed and decided to settle somewhere in the middleâat least for now. “I don't know,” she finally answered as she unfolded her long legs and pushed away from the window seat. Then, tossing off the inner warnings, teased, “Does she use green fingernail polish?”
Lisa gave her cousin and best friend a scathing look. “What, you don't like my nails? I think they're great. They're a perfect match for my new green swimsuit. Brad will flip.”
Jennie couldn't imagine Lisa's boyfriend flipping over anythingâexcept maybe football. “He'll notice youâthat's for sure. So will everyone else at the party. You'll look like a leftover leprechaun from the St. Patrick's Day Parade.” Jennie grabbed a brush from her dresser and flopped on the bed next to Lisa. The “party” was Allison Beaumonts big spring bash, to which practically everyone in town was invited, and to which Jennie had no intention of going.
“You're just jealous because you can't get your nails this long.” Lisa bounced off the bed, keeping her hands stretched out in front of her.
“Yeah, well, considering what my nailsânot to mention my bodyâhas been through in the last month, it's no wonder.” Just a week before, Jennie had narrowly escaped drowning, a fire, and a guy with murder on his mind.
Jennie pulled the brush through her long dark hair and took a deep breath. She was still having nightmares about him. Which was another reason she didn't particularly want to get involved with Allison. Of course the most important reason was that she wanted to be ready to start looking for Dad as soon as Gram came home. During Jennie and Gram's trip to Florida, Jennie had talked Gram into helping her find Dad. Now everything was on hold while Gram took care of some official business in Europe. J. B., Gram's FBI friend, had tried to sweep her away the minute their plane landed. “An important assignment” was all he'd said.
“Sorry,” Gram told him. “Family comes first and I promised Jennie we'd work on finding Jason.”
In the end, Jennie urged Gram to go. Working for the government meant making sacrificesâthat much she'd learned when Dad had been alive.
No, scratch that, McGrady. He is still alive
Gram had only been gone for three days, and Jennie wished she could take it all back. Even if tracking down Allison's “secret admirer” did sound intriguing, the only case Jennie McGrady cared about at the moment was finding her father and bringing him home.
“I know you've been through a lot lately,” Lisa said, interrupting Jennie's thoughts, “but Allison needs our help.”
“Why doesn't she go to the police?”
“She has. The police haven't been able to come up with anything.”
“Then how do you expect me to?” Jennie asked. “Just because I helped solve a couple of mysteries doesn't mean I'm about to hang a shingle on my door and call myself a private eye. Speaking of which, why don't her parents hire one? It's not like they can't afford to.”
“Her parents agree with the police, that it's probably a prank. Allison says they keep telling her not to worry. Anyway, with all the scary stuff that's been in the news lately, she's afraid someone might be stalking her. She's really upset and Iâ¦ahâ¦well, I sort of hinted that you might be willing to help.”
“What if I help you?” Lisa interrupted. “We could spend a lot of time with her, maybe bug her phone and stake out her houseâ¦you know, do a surveillance kind of thing.”
Trying to ignore the pleading look in Lisa's sea green eyes, Jennie scooted to the edge of the bed and lowered her head, letting her dark hair cascade over the side, then started brushing again. “Spending time with Allison is not my idea of a good time. Besides, it could be dangerous. From what you've told me the guy sounds like a real creep.”
Lisa plopped back on the bed, careful to keep her fingers splayed out in front of her. “I know it could be scary, Jen, but think about Allison. She's about to go crazy. This guy's been after her ever since she got named Rose Princess. The worst thing so far was pulling the distributor caps out of their cars so she'd be late for the Rose Festival Parade.”
The Rose Festival brought tourists from all over the world. Events began with each school choosing a princess. Then about the first week of June one of those princesses became the Rose Festival Queen.
“That's another possibility,” Jennie offered as she flipped her hair back. “What if one of the girls who lost to Allison is jealous and is doing this to get back at her?” Lisa frowned as she tested her nails for dryness. “Well, there was that thing with Paige Matthews. Remember?”
Jennie shook her head.
“Paige and Ed Brodie were going together, then over Christmas, when Paige went with her parents on vacation, Ed and Allison started going out. When Paige came home she was furious.”
“I thought Paige and Allison were best friends.”
“They are, now. After a couple of months Allison broke up with Ed, and a few weeks later he and Paige got back together. It was all a big misunderstanding.”
“What about the other girls?”
Lisa thought a moment then said, “Na. We were all disappointed, but I think we're all happy for Allison. We're not sore losers.” Lisa stopped for a second and tipped her head to the side. “Besides, this is definitely a guy.”
“What makes you think so?”
“It started out being kind of romantic. He sent her a card and some flowers and signed it
Your Secret Admirer
. At first she thought it might have been some guy from school who has a crush on her.”
“It might be.” Jennie gathered her hair into strands and began braiding. “Or it might be a girl who wants Allison to think it's a guy.”
Lisa wrinkled her nose at Jennie's suggestion. “The only guy I can think of right now is Jerry.”
“Jerry Shepherd?” Jennie asked. “Jerry likes Allison?” The news disappointed her. She'd always thought of Jerry as intelligent and level-headedânot the sort who'd fall for a prima donna like Allison.
“He asked me a few weeks ago if I thought Allison would ever go out with him.”
“What did you tell him?”
“That she might.”
“How could you mislead Jerry like that! He's a nice guy. You should have told him he had about as much chance of dating Allison as he does Taylor Swift.”
Lisa ignored the sarcastic remark and sighed. “Love conquers all things.”
“Only in the movies,” Jennie mumbled. The only thing love had done for her lately was to make her miserable. Thoughts of Ryan tumbled into her head. They could have had so much fun this summerâromantic walks on the beach, holding hands, kissing. Only none of that was going to happen. Ryan had gone fishing in Alaska. And she was stuck in Portland.
“Anyway,” Lisa was saying when Jennie tuned back in, “we both know Jerry wouldn't dream of hurting anyone. Got any other ideas?”
Jennie pushed her musings about love and Ryan aside and concentrated instead on who might have reason to get even with Allison. “Maybe somebody's playing practical jokes on her. You know, getting back at her for not inviting them to her parties or something.”
“Could be, but I don't know of anyone that mean. Lately his notes have been getting moreâ¦I don't knowâ¦dangerous. The last one said,
I'm watching you.
” Lisa grimaced. “If she's getting phone calls the police should be able to trace them. And what about caller ID? The number comes up as unavailable. Maybe he's using a burner phone or something. The calls can't be traced. Anyway, I feel sorry for her. I told her I'd talk to you. Why don't you at least listen to her sideâget to know her? Then decide. Even if we can't catch the guy, at least we can be there for her.”
“Wellâ¦I guess I could talk to her.” Jennie reached for a hair band and twisted it around the braid's end, then flipped it back over her shoulder.
“Great. I knew you'd do it.” Lisa glanced at her watch. “She should be here any minute.”
“What? Allison Beaumont is corning hereâ¦to my house?” Jennie grabbed the back of Lisa's neck and squeezed. “Lisa, it's almost nine-thirty!”
“Ahâ¦I invited her to stay overnight.”
“You what? It would serve you right if I smudged all your nails.”
“Don't you dare.” Lisa giggled and ducked away. “Jennie,” Lisa said, sobering, “Allison's a really sweet person when you get to know her.”
“Yeah, right. Tell that to the long string of guys she's dumpedâ¦Besides, Mom will have a fit.” Morn and her boyfriend, Michael, had taken Jennie's five-year-old brother, Nick, to a movie. And Mom did not like surprises.
“I've taken care of that too. I called her this afternoon before I came over. So you see, it's all set.”
Jennie shook her head. “Did you tell her why Allison was corning?”
“Of course not. I just said we had a friend who really needed our help right now.” Lisa tossed back her thick mass of copper-colored curls and smiled. “She does, you know, and I think you'll be glad you agreed to help.”
“I didn't say I'd help. I just said I'd talk with her.”
Jennie slipped off the bed and walked to her closet. “I'm not getting dressed.” She stood in front of the mirror assessing her baggy purple sweats.
“Will you relax! It's not like she's a movie star or anything.”
The doorbell rang. “That's her.” Lisa headed for the door, then stopped and turned around. “Aren't you coming?”
Jennie unfolded her arms and followed Lisa into the hall and down the stairs. She didn't like this. She didn't like it one bit.
, her inner voice prompted.
It's just for one evening. You can handle anything for one night. Even a spoiled little rich girl like Allison Beaumont.
When Lisa opened the door, Allison swept in, set down her sleeping bag and overnight case, and gave Lisa a hug. From what Lisa had said, Jennie expected the girl to be on the verge of hysteria. Instead, Allison seemed more fluttery and gracious than ever. Could be a coverÂup, Jennie reminded herself. Allison was good at that.
“Thanks so much for your help,” Allison gushed. Before Jennie could set her straight, Allison stepped away from Lisa and spread her arms out to Jennie. “You look great. And your tanâI am so jealous.”
Jennie reluctantly allowed Allison to hug her, then stepped back. It was then she saw the girl standing on the porch. As if on cue, Allison turned and took the girl's hand and pulled her inside. “I'm sorry, where are my manners? This is Bethany, myâ¦ahâ¦sister. And these are my friends, Lisa Calhoun and Jennie McGrady.”
“Hi.” Bethany stuffed her hands into the pockets of her torn jeans. “And the name's B.J. Lewis. Al, here, seems to have a hearing problem.”
“Bethany is a great name.” Allison gave her sister a look Jennie suspected was a plea not to embarrass her.
“For you maybe. Not for me,” B.J. argued.
You're right about that
, Jennie felt like saying but didn't. Bethany should have been sweet, maybe saintly.
B.J. didn't fit the picture at all. Jennie shifted her gaze from one girl to the other. Talk about contrasts. Allison had fine features, clear skin, a small nose, and big blue eyes. Her straight, shoulder-length blond hair looked like she'd trained each strand to shimmer and sway in unison every time she moved her head. Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella all wrapped in one neat package.
B.J., on the other hand, had kinky brown hair and hazel eyesâsharp and piercingâthe kind that made you feel as if she could see clear through to your soul. She was attractive, but next to Allison, her nose seemed a little too big, her hair a little too drab, and her clothes a little too shabby. Enough reason, Jennie decided, to like her.
“Look.” B.J. took a step backwards. “I shouldn't be here. I told Al she didn't need to bring me, but she and Mrs. Beaumont insisted. I don't need to stayâ¦”
“Don't be silly.” Lisa stepped outside, grabbed B.J.'s bag, and brought it in the house. “There's always room for one more.”
She motioned B.J. in and closed the door behind them, then started up the stairs. “Let's put your stuff in Jennie's room, then we'll get some snacks and talk.”
B.J. looked at Jennie as if waiting for her to second the motion. “Don't look at me.” Jennie shrugged and grinned. “I just live here.”
, Jennie mused as she took B.J.'s bag from Lisa and followed her up to her room. The canvas bag looked like a reject from Goodwill. B.J.'s clothes didn't look much better. Of course it was hard to tell these days when a pair of torn jeans sold at Nordstrom's for one-hundred dollars a pair. “Just toss the rest of your stuff over here,” she said, pointing to the corner where she'd set B.J.'s bag.
“We'll sort out sleeping space later. So, B.J.,” Jennie said as she ushered the party back downstairs, “I don't remember seeing you before. Do you live around here?”
When B.J. didn't offer any more information, Allison produced a nervous giggle. “A woman of few words. Actually, B.J. and our mother lived in California untilâ¦”
“Give it a rest, Al,” B.J. muttered. “I'm sure Lisa and Jennie have more important things to do than listen to my life story. Why don't you cut the gab and get down to business? We all know you're not here for a social visit.”
Allison stared openmouthed at her sister and, for the first time Jennie could remember, seemed at a loss for words. Part of her felt sorry for Allison, but the other part wanted to cheer B.J. on.
“C'mon,” Jennie said as she led them into the kitchen. “Maybe we can find time for both.” She pulled out a couple bags of microwave popcorn and set them on the counter while Lisa raided the refrigerator for drinks.
B.J. hooked a leg over the barstool across the counter from Jennie. “I hear you're pretty good at solving mysteries. Think you can figure this one out?”
Jennie shrugged. “Which one, Allison's or yours?”
B.J. smiled and raised an eyebrow. “I'm not that hard to figure out.”
“I think you are,” Allison said.
“That's because you live such a sheltered life.” B.J. shook her head. “You'd have a hard time understanding anybody whose house isn't worth a couple mil.”
“That's not fairâ¦”Allison began.
“It's true.” Shifting her gaze from Allison to Jennie, B.J. added, “How about it, McGrady, think you can figure me out?”
“Come on, you guys,” Lisa interrupted. She laughed nervously as she handed each of the girls a Coke. “I told you Jennie was a good detective, not a mind reader.”
This is a test, pure and simple.
But for what?
To determine whether or not I'm good enough to solve Allison's mystery? Or good enough to be a friend?
Whatever the reason, Jennie decided to accept the challenge.
“Maybe,” Jennie answered as she reached into the cupboard for bowls. Then needing more time to think added, “But let's wait until we're upstairs. I do better with puzzles on a full stomach.”
A few minutes later, the girls, carrying hot buttered popcorn, drinks, and a stash of chocolates, made their way from the kitchen, through the entry, and up the stairs to Jennie's room. Jennie and Lisa pulled a couple of overÂstuffed chairs from their corner spaces and set them near the bed, then flopped onto it. Jennie set the popcorn on the floor so everyone could reach. B.J. sprawled onto the chair nearest Jennie. Allison sank into the other one and glanced at B.J. The look on Allison's face surprised Jennie. She'd expected the girl to be annoyed or embarrassed. What she saw was a kind of sadnessâlike maybe Allison felt sorry for B.J., or like she wanted to help but didn't know how.
“Okay, McGrady,” B.J. said, interrupting Jennie's thoughts. She tossed a piece of popcorn in the air and caught it in her mouth. “Let's see how good you really are.”
“You sure you want to do this?” Jennie asked. “I meanâ¦I wouldn't want to embarrass you.” The picture of B.J. forming in Jennie's mind was not a pleasant one and she wanted to give her an opportunity to back out.
B.J. leaned back in the chair and hooked a leg over the arm. “You can't embarrass me, McGrady. Now quit stalling.”
“Okay, but just remember this was your idea.” Jennie sighed, tossed a couple pieces of popcorn in her mouth, and began. “From the size of the chip you carry on your shoulder, I'd guess you've had a pretty rough life. You don't have much money, and you just recently discovered that you have a sister. Since Allison is older, I'd say your parents must have divorced before you were born. Allison grew up with her dad and his new wife, and you with your mom and maybe, since your last name is different, a stepfather.”
B.J. stretched her legs out in front of her and leaned back. “Not bad. How'd you arrive at that?”
Jennie shrugged. “It wasn't really all that hard. You and Allison don't seem too comfortable together, so I figure you haven't known each other long. I just hooked together other pieces of information you gave me and things I noticed.”
“That's fascinating,” Allison injected.
“Not really. I know how you hate to be called Al. You haven't corrected her. That means you're still treading softly, not wanting to upset her. Besides, if she'd been around awhile, your folks wouldn't have made you bring her here tonight. Andâ¦” Jennie turned to B.J., “â¦your overnight bag is in pretty bad shape. That means Mrs. Beaumont hasn't had a chance to take you shopping.”
“She offered. I refused.”
Jennie nodded. “Which tells me something else. You're angry. Maybe at your mom for not telling you about your dad, or at your dad for not finding you sooner.”
“I'm not mad at my mother. She's dead.”
“You can still be mad at her.” Jennie spoke from experience. As much as she loved her parents, especially her father, she had struggled with being angry at him for leaving and with her mother for giving upâfor falling in love with Michael, and a lot of other things.
“Well, I'm not. Okay?” Bethany insisted. “My social worker found out about Mr. Beaumont being my father when we cleaned out the apartment where Mom and I lived.”
Jennie twisted around to a sitting position and folded her legs in front of her. “So you started looking for him?”
“No. I didn't want to.”
Her answer surprised Jennie, who'd give anything to know where her own father might be. “Why?” she asked.
“What do I need with a father? I'm nearly sixteen. I've practically been on my own since I was ten. Social services found him. At first he didn't believe them.”
“You can't blame Daddy for that,” Allison defended.
“There are lots of people who would say they were related to us because we have money.”
“Yeah, well I couldn't care less about his money,” B.J. jeered. “I wouldn't be here at all if they hadn't threatened to put me in a foster home.”
“I'm glad you're here. I always wanted a sister.”
“I'll just bet. Anywayâ¦” B.J. scooped up a handful of popcorn. “Let's just forget it. I'm sure these guys don't want to hear about our problems.” To Jennie she said, “You're pretty good, McGrady.” She hesitated a moment, then asked, “So, what do you think about Al's secret admirer?”
“It's probably a prank. Some old boyfriend with a grudge or maybe a sore loser.” Jennie had another opinion but didn't voice it. If she had to choose a suspect at that moment, it would be B.J. Lewis.
“Not a chance. I'll bet this stalker doesn't even know Al. He probably read about her in the paper. I think we're dealing with a psycho here. I mean one day he's sending her flowers and love notes and the next he's threatening to kill her.”
“Kill her?” Lisa and Jennie asked at the same time.
“You never told me he'd threatened to kill you,” Lisa directed the accusation toward Allison.
“He hadn'tâ¦until today.” Allison reached into the pocket of her cardigan, pulled out a square white envelope, and handed it to Lisa. “When I came home from church today I found this on my front porch along withâ¦”Allison paused. Her voice broke.
“Dead roses,” B.J. finished. “The guy sent her a dozen dead roses.”
Lisa gasped as she read the note, then passed it to Jennie. The note, carefully written in bold block letters, read:
DEAD ROSES FOR A DEAD LADY