The Greatest Gift (A Darcy Sweet Mystery) (8 page)

BOOK: The Greatest Gift (A Darcy Sweet Mystery)
13.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

As if on cue, a book flew across the room from one of the shelves and landed with a thump to skid across the wood floor over by the reading section.  Darcy shook her head.  Millie, up to her old tricks.

"She's been doing that all morning," Izzy said with a sigh.  "I keep telling her it would be easier to count the books if they stayed in one place."

Lilly eyed the book with wide eyes and edged a little closer to her mother.  Both of them were very familiar with Great Aunt Millie
.  Darcy was happy to have finally introduced her ghostly aunt to someone new.  Izzy had taken it pretty well to find out that the place where she now worked was haunted.  Lilly was still adjusting to the idea.

"So," Darcy said, "let's get going."

They worked for a few hours, visibly checking the inventory against the records in the computer, organizing shelves and then reorganizing them when Millie would decide that the books looked better on the floor.

Lilly giggled when Millie knocked the same book
down four times in a row, making Izzy grind her teeth and hiss out an annoyed breath.  "You know she's only doing it now to entertain Lilly," she complained to Darcy.

t's been a while since there were any children around the bookstore on a regular basis."  Darcy wiped dust off her hands and made a note to thin down the travel section of the shelves.  "I think she likes having Lilly around."

"You could always have a child or two of your own," Izzy said in a suggestive voice.  "I heard Jon was back in town."

"Yes.  Well.  My sister Grace is going to have mom's first granddaughter very soon.  She'll have to be satisfied with that.  At least for a while."  Darcy realized how that sounded and changed the subject.  "Mom's wedding is just two Saturdays from now.  Can you believe it?"

"Weird to have your mother marrying again?"
Izzy asked.  "I bet I'd feel the same way, too."

As the conversation drifted away from children and marriage
, customers started to drift in, and Darcy went to her office to finish up the inventory.  It wasn't long before she had it done for another year.  Leaning back in the office desk chair she stared at the ceiling.  A lot of things weighed on her mind.  The inventory had been a distraction, but now that it was done everything came crowding back in.

One thought in
particular crowded out the others.  Jon.  She wondered what he was doing now, right now, at this moment, and she wondered when he was going to come back, and she wondered what they were going to do about their relationship.

When she checked her watch and twenty minutes had gone by, she knew this wasn't helping.  She needed to do something.  She needed to work on a problem she could actually do something about.

Like Belinda's ghost.

Jon was going to interview the people who had fixed up Belinda's false door, the door that Dominic had made sure to show Darcy in her dream.  She still wasn't sure what that was all about, or what they would find out from the Handyman Express, but
if Dominic thought it was that important then there must be something to it.

Darcy wished she'd gone with Jon.  A
part from spending time with him it would have allowed her to hear what the Handyman Express owners said first hand.  Of course, there was someone else right here in Misty Hollow who still needed to be interviewed.

It didn't take her long to decide to go talk to Rita Casey.  It was better than sitting here and staring at the ceiling.

"Millie, be good while I'm gone," she whispered.  From the corner of her eye, she saw the shadow of her aunt standing and smiling at her.  One of the smiles she used to give Darcy when she was a teenager and she wanted her to know everything would be all right.


The La Di Da Deli didn't have any other customers when Darcy got there.  The Monday morning rush was over and it wasn't time for the lunch crowd yet.  Behind the long counter with its glass display case, Clara Barstow cut ham on a meat slicer, working the arm of it back and forth in a measured rhythm.  Her brown hair was done up in a hair net and her white apron was smeared and stained.  Darcy respected how she worked so hard at her own store.  Not unlike herself, or Helen Nelson who owned a bakery and ran the town as its mayor at the same time.

"Good morning Clara."  Darcy waited for Clara to finish cutting and weighing out the package of ham she was preparing.  "Is Rita working today?"

Clara nodded, although she looked surprised that Darcy had asked.  "She's in the kitchen.  You can go on back if you want to, Darcy.  I've got a special order to do up.  Still have three pounds of roast beef to slice!"

Darcy thanked Clara and went around the counter
, through the doors to the kitchen, where ovens and gas grills and a brick oven stood ready for the lunch crowd.  Rita was sitting at the long, stainless steel table, in her waitress outfit just like she'd been wearing yesterday when Darcy and Jon had been here.  She was reading a paperback romance novel, licking a finger every time she turned a page.

When she saw Darcy, Rita looked up with a little smile.  "Oh, hey there
, honey.  What brings you in here?"

"Just out for a walk," Darcy lied.  "How's your mother?  We haven't had a book club meeting in a while."

Rita nodded.  "Oh, she really likes that book club of yours.  You have to start that up again.  She would love you forever.  Is that really why you came here?"

"Actually, I wanted to talk to you," Darcy said.  "Do you have a few minutes?"

"Oh, sure.  Nobody's come in yet for a meal.  Not much for a waitress to do when she doesn't have any customers.  Hey, did you tell Belinda I was looking for work if she needed anything?"

Darcy sat down in the chair next to Rita's.  "I did mention it.  I'm
sorry, she still says she doesn't have money to hire anyone right now."

That wasn't
really the way the conversation had gone, but she wanted to see just exactly why Rita seemed so eager to go back to work for Belinda.  Darcy wasn't convinced yet that her motives were pure.

"Oh, that's too bad."  Belinda set her book down on the
tabletop, open with the pages facing down, and Darcy winced at the long cracks already in the spine.  She hated to see books treated that way.  "I really enjoyed working for the old girl," Belinda added.

oups on slow boil tantalized Darcy with their smell.  A ham was cooking in one of the ovens.  "It smells great back here," she said.  "Did you used to cook for Belinda?"

laughed at that.  "Of all the things she ever had me do for her I don't think she ever once asked me to cook.  No, half the time we just sat around like two old crows and gossiped.  She was a lot of fun for someone her age."

"And all that money she
supposedly got from her husband sure would come in handy, wouldn't it?"

Rita's head
came up sharply.  Her eyes were narrowed and her smile faded.  "It sure would.  I guess she wants to keep it all to herself.  Well.  I guess I can't blame her."

Something in the way Rita said that piqued Darcy's suspicions.  Someone was getting into Belinda's house and searching for something.  Behind books, behind picture frames, and who knew where else.
  Someone who thought there was something to find.  Someone who knew a secret way in.

And Rita had said something yesterday about cleaning Belinda's house upstairs, and downstairs…

"Rita," she asked, "where did you hear about this money of Belinda's?"

"Hmm?" she asked, already picking her book back up.  "Oh, I don't remember, really.  Does it matter?"

Darcy supposed not.  What mattered was who would want the money badly enough to break into Belinda's house.

She thought she might be looking at that person
right now.

Chapter Eight



Belinda's fake ghost hadn't done anything to hurt her.  Yet.  Darcy knew how these things went, though.  If Belinda had the bad luck to walk in on whoever was trying to steal from her, she might wind up dead.  Darcy had seen people murdered for less.

She had left Izzy to run the shop and gone straight back home.
  Once there it had taken her two tries to get Jon to answer his cell phone.  When she told him what Rita had said, he agreed that it didn't mean she was the person bothering Belinda, but it certainly made her a strong suspect.  He was still with Cassidy and Angela Whedon, he'd said, but he'd come straight back after he was done.

Before they hung up, he told her he loved her.

He'd never stopped telling her that, but somehow when he said it now it meant that much more for her.

It was the middle of the afternoon now. 
Restless energy had her pacing around her living room and picking up odds and ends in the already tidy kitchen that her mother had left spotless.  She finally sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of lemonade and found herself twisting and turning the antique silver ring on her finger over and over. 

She was just thinking about calling Jon again when the front door to the house opened.  Her mother came in, smiling and humming.  Not something Darcy was used to seeing.

"Oh, there you are honey."  Her mother put down a paper sack of groceries on the countertop.  A long crusty loaf of bread rose over the top of the full bag next to a bunch of celery and a package of spaghetti.  "I thought I might make dinner."

"I've told you that you don't need to cook for me, mom."  Darcy got up from the table and went to help put the groceries away, wanting something to keep herself busy.  "I've been making my own meals for years now.  Plus, you're my guest."

"I'm your mother, is what I am," she reminded Darcy.  Then, in a smaller voice, she added, "Not to mention I invited James over for dinner."

If she didn't know better, Darcy would swear her mother was blushing.  "Well, they say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

"It certainly works for James."  Eileen Sweet made sure to keep her back turned, hiding her expression, busying herself with organizing Darcy's pantry cabinet.

"Mom, I know I've told you this before, but I'm glad you found someone
to share your life with again."  Darcy folded the paper bag and put it in a storage shelf beside the stove.  "I can see how happy he's made you."

"Happy?"  Now her mother did turn to her, an amused smile on her face.  "Well, yes, I suppose I am happy.  I mean, I know I'm happy.  But can I tell you a secret?  I haven't even told your sister Grace this."

She leaned in close to Darcy even though they were the only two people in the house and whispered, "I'm so nervous I think I might burst."

"What?"  Darcy was surprised.  Her mother was the epitome of poise and reserve, a rock that would stand against time and weather both.  Or so it had appeared.  "Mom, I had no idea."

"I can't help it."  Her mother began fidgeting with her hands, a habit that Darcy had only seen her do a few times, back when she was a young girl still living in the Sweet family home and she had nearly put her mother into hysterics with her talk of seeing ghosts and having visions.  "I suppose it's natural.  Do you think?  For a woman to be nervous about marrying a new man?"

Darcy still found it hard to believe how much things had changed.  Once upon a time, her mother had been happy to see her leave and come live with Aunt Millie.  Fast forward to
the present, and her mother was asking for Darcy's advice and reassurance.  This was the sort of mother-daughter bond every little girl craved.  Darcy included.

"I tell you what, mom," Darcy said, reaching for the copper tea kettle
on its burner.  "Let's make some coffee.  Then you and I can sit and talk.  Just us girls."

The relief in her mother's smile was genuine.  "That would be nice, Darcy.  I can't remember the last time we did that."

"Maybe that's because we never did.  Time to start a new tradition."


Laughter and honest conversation made the best cure for nerves.  That was what Darcy discovered sitting there at the table with her mother.

sat and drank French roast coffee and talked about how Eileen had met James, and how they had come to fall in love even though Darcy's mother had always been so certain such a thing would never happen for her again.  James had made her feel like a woman half her age, and made her feel cherished.  That was her mother's word for it.  It was an old fashioned idea, perhaps, but Darcy suddenly found herself wanting that for herself.  Someone to cherish her.

Even though Darcy was doing her best to ease her mother's fear about a wedding less than two weeks away, the conversation gradually came around to Jon. 
Darcy saw the knowing looks her mother gave her.  Apparently she was wearing her heart a little heavier on her sleeve than she realized.  It was a slow process, opening up, but it felt good to finally talk about everything she was feeling concerning the amazing, distant, frustrating Jon Tinker.

He chose that moment to pull his car into Darcy
's short driveway.  Who says the Universe doesn't have a sense of humor, she thought to herself.

BOOK: The Greatest Gift (A Darcy Sweet Mystery)
13.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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