The Greatest Gift (A Darcy Sweet Mystery)

BOOK: The Greatest Gift (A Darcy Sweet Mystery)
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COPYRIGHT

 

First published in Australia by South Coast Publishing, July 2014.
Copyright K.J. Emrick (2014)

 

This is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents and locations portrayed in this book and the names herein are fictitious.  Any similarity to or identification with the locations, names, characters or history of any person, product or entity is entirely coincidental and unintentional.

 

- From a
Declaration of Principles
jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. 

 

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All information is generalized, presented for informational purposes only and presented "as is" without warranty or guarantee of any kind. 

 

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Chapter One

 

The Heaven's Touch Dress Shop in Oak Hollow had promised to stay open late on Saturday.  They would be happy to accommodate Darcy's request, as long as Darcy's mother promised to buy her wedding dress and the bridesmaid's gowns from them.

Eileen Sweet hadn't been interested in
wearing a wedding gown at all, at first.  She reminded her two daughters that this was her second wedding, and she was fifty-seven years old after all.  A little old for all the trappings of white dresses and lace.  Those had been her words.  Darcy and her sister Grace had argued that every bride needed a special dress, but Eileen held her ground. 

After a week of trying to convince her,
they had worn their mother down and convinced her that her fiancé deserved a bride in a white dress.  Darcy had met James Bollinger now, finally, and she had to admit she approved of the man as a future husband for her mother.  He might not ever replace her father, but then what man ever could?

At any rate, the wedding was in two weeks.  They needed to get their dresses now.

James was a tall man with a warm smile.  He had this faint British accent that emphasized the stiff way he held himself and his neatly trimmed dark hair and moustache.  In a different decade, Darcy might have described the man as dapper.  He had a warm smile, though, and he made Darcy's mother laugh.  Darcy couldn't remember the last time she'd heard that sound.

"I like this one, mom.
" Grace, holding one hand under the bulge of her belly, held a dress up in the other.  It was pretty and low cut and would have left their mother's arms and shoulders bare.  The lace across the bosom trailed down to the waist, and Darcy could see how long the train of it was.

Eileen raised an eyebrow.  "I think that might show off a bit more skin than I'm comfortable with, Grace dear.  Remember, I'm not young anymore."

Darcy's mother was a very proper, old-school woman.  She always kept her silver hair done up and neatly tucked in place.  She had spent half an hour getting ready to leave Darcy's home in Misty Hollow this afternoon, putting on pressed slacks and a matching blue top and a string of pearls, even though they were going to be the only ones in the dress shop.

"You'll always be young to us," Darcy offered.  She had to agree with her mother, though.  Something a little less revealing might be more her style.

"Oh yes.  Well," the store clerk said, "I think I have just the thing for you, Miss Sweet.  Do hold on right here."

Darcy met Grace's eyes and could tell they were both thinking the same thing.  The nice saleswoman had gone after "just the thing" for their mother four separate times now.  One dress had been pink, one had sported a high choking collar, and the other two had been straight out of the nineteen-seventies.

On a whim, Darcy picked a dress off the rack and held it up in front of her. Turning to one of the many mirrors in the store, she imagined herself wearing it.  The plunging neckline might be too much for her, but she liked the lace and the three-quarter sleeves.  Her long, dark hair would settle just so over the shoulders, and if she wore green earrings to highlight the color of her hazel eyes…

Grace stepped into the reflection behind her.  "
Maybe we can get one for you while we're here, sis."

Darcy snorted and put the dress back like she hadn't
just been daydreaming about it.  Her jeans and sleeveless red top suited her just fine, thank you very much.  "I'd need someone to get married with before I could wear it, don't you think?  A wedding dress isn't something you buy for the fun of it."

With a mischievous grin
, Grace shrugged.  "You know Jon will come back.  If he doesn't, there's always that Lorne guy you told me about from college.  I saw the letters he wrote you."

Darcy gasped.  "You little sneak.  When did you see those?"

Grace checked out her profile in the mirror, running a hand over the swollen curve of her belly.  Her hazel eyes were a shade darker than Darcy's.  Now, they shone with amusement.  "You can't hide anything from a police detective like me, sis.  Especially not when you keep the letters on your kitchen table."

Darcy
felt her cheeks heating.  Lorne and she had reconnected at a friend's funeral less than two weeks ago, and since that time they had written several letters and e-mails back and forth.  It was more complicated than that, of course.  The friend whose funeral Darcy had gone to attend, Chloe Marrin, had been Lorne's fiancé.  On top of that Darcy had proven that Chloe had been murdered.  If that wasn't enough, Darcy kept putting Lorne off because she was holding onto the hope that Jon Tinker would come to his stupid senses and come back to her.

If
only wishing for it could make it true, she thought.

The saleswoman came out
from the back room just then, saving her the further embarrassment of trying to explain to Grace that Lorne had already offered to come visit next week. 

The woman who had been searching through the store's entire stock to find their mother the perfect dress
was also the owner of the Heaven's Touch Dress Shop.  Helena was her name.  She was a short woman with Asian features and olive skin and a smile that seemed to be a permanent feature.

"This," she said, "is the dress. 
The
dress.  For you."

In her hands she held a
cream colored gown.  It had a ruffled neck, and long sleeves with flared cuffs.  A lace pattern sewn across the front.  A flared skirt had a smooth, short train.

It was gorgeous.

"Oh, Mom," Grace said, "it's perfect.  You have to wear that one."

Darcy could see how much her mother liked the d
ress.  It was written on her face and in her eyes.  Still, her mom cleared her throat and stuffed her hands into her pockets.  For just a moment, Darcy could see something of herself in her mother's heart-shaped face.  "I don't know," she said, even though it was obvious that the saleswoman had gotten it right this time.

"It is definitely for you,"
Helena said.  "You will look so lovely in this.  Yes.  Come try it on in the dressing room."

Eileen allowed herself to be led to the back of the store, behind a gauzy white curtain, with an uncertain look back at her daughters.

"She'll make a beautiful bride," Darcy said when the curtain closed again.  "I'm very happy for her."

"Yeah," Grace agreed.  "Weird,
isn't it?  We went from dreading every time she showed up in our lives to being a part of her second wedding almost overnight."

"Not quite that quickly," Darcy pointed out.  "I mean, Mom is still Mom, and she probably always
will be.  But her man James has definitely changed her.  She's a lot easier to be around now."

"More so than when we were girls, right?"

"Right."  She laughed together with Grace then went back to looking at the stock of dresses.  It was like being a little girl playing dress up, in a lot of ways, with the pretty white and off-white gowns all around them.

One
in particular caught her eye.  Pleats and sequins down the gown, cap sleeves with white floral designs on them.  Taking it off its rack, she held it up to herself.  It was every girl's dream to get married in something like this.

"You'd look pretty in that one
," Grace said.

"Think so?" Darcy asked.

"I bet any man would be happy to stand next to you in that."

Darcy sighed and turned to the mirror.  "There's only one man I'm
interested in having next to me…"

Jon Tinker. 

He was here.  Standing there in the entrance to the shop.

She had to blink several times to make sure she wasn't imagining it. 

Blink, blink. 

He was still there.  S
till leaning against the doorway, still staring at her with that little smile he wore so well.  His intense blue eyes drew her in.  His hair was a little longer than the last time she'd seen it, dark and lustrous.  His physique filled out the gray suit he was wearing and it was obvious he had come straight from his new job here in Oak Hollow.

With that thought, t
he heat of attraction that she'd instantly felt when she saw him faded.  A lot.  This was the reason they had broken up in the first place.  He'd left her to take a job here, an hour away from her home.  Living two separate lives made it very hard to maintain a relationship.

It didn't mean she wasn't still in love with him.

"Um.  Hi," she stuttered.  "I didn't know you were going to be here."

"I get that," he said, with a slow nod.  "That was probably because you didn't call to let me know you would be coming into town."

He smiled as he said it but still Darcy felt embarrassed.  She had gone back and forth on that decision for most of yesterday and finally decided that she just wasn't ready to see him again.  On the other hand, if Jon had shown up at her doorstep back in Misty Hollow and said he was home to stay she would have fallen into his arms without a second thought.

Seeing him
now, knowing he was probably never going to give up his new life here, was hard to take.

"We came to find a wedding dress for mom," Darcy said even though Jon hadn't asked her to explain. 
"Um.  She's getting married."

"I remember," Jon said. 

He came into the shop and let the door close behind him.  Darcy was very conscious of her sister standing behind her, trying to act like she wasn't listening as she eavesdropped on every word.  Her heart pulsed as he came nearer, and she had just enough presence of mind to hang the wedding dress she had been looking at back on its metal bar before he was standing right in front of her.

When his arms wrapped around her, it was like they had never been separated at all.  Darcy fell easily into t
he perfect fit of his embrace.  His shape and his smell and the rhythmic beat of his pulse were all intimately familiar to her.

Why couldn't it be like this all the time?

"I'm glad you're here," he said to her.  "I've been trying to get time off to come and see you.  Every time I tried, something came up.  We've had a string of burglaries over here that have tied me and three other detectives up for weeks."

She sighed into his shoulder, wishing he'd stop talking about work.  "Sounds like you've been busy."

"Well, that's been the problem.  Life in the big city," he said.  "Or small city in this case.  Small city, big problems."

Darcy realized
that Jon was leading up to something, she just didn't know what.  She was upset that they couldn't just share a moment together after so long apart.  E-mails and a few phone calls had been all she'd gotten from Jon.

Even Lorne
Sommers had offered to visit her, and he lived three states away.  She and Lorne went back to college.  They hadn't seen each other in years and he was asking to come visit her.  Jon had been here in Oak Hollow for only a few months and he hadn't found the time to drive an hour to come see her.

BOOK: The Greatest Gift (A Darcy Sweet Mystery)
13.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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