The moment of peace I needed, however, vanished in a puff of irritated breath at the sight of Crew and the female deputy—Robert standing around doing nothing while his boss and coworker wound up tape—cleared the crime scene. That should have made me happy, right? Grumble at least tell me what happened mumble.
Crew’s scowl had to match mine as I stomped to a halt at his side and glared up at him. “Well?”
He grunted, gritted his teeth. “The coroner,” he said like it hurt him to speak, “has ruled Pete’s death an accident.”
“I see.” Vindication, oh yeah.
“But.” So he wasn’t letting this go, was he? “There’s an odd bruise on the victim’s leg that isn’t accounted for and I still have to explain a few more things before I’m satisfied with that ruling.”
Actually, I wasn’t 100% sold on the whole accident thing myself, oddly, so I didn’t argue despite knowing it meant I wasn’t in the clear yet. Stubborn knew stubborn, after all. That glint of a dog with a bone he couldn’t let go of wasn’t lost on me because I was gnawing my own, wasn’t I?
“That said,” Crew went on, “I’m willing to release the scene at this point.”
I choked on spewing about the box. But he noticed, because I was obvious and an idiot.
“Was there something you wanted to disclose, Miss Fleming?” He had to use that snarky tone that made me want to smack him, didn’t he? “Something you want to confess?”
“Only,” I sniped back, thankful one of the koi swam by right then and reminded me I had more than one bit of possible evidence to lure him with, “that your deputies need glasses. Or training.” I pointed at Fat Benny. Thankfully, the idiot fish still hadn’t managed to swallow his little red trailer. “While I’m not positive it’s part of the crime, you might want to collect actual evidence in an actual crime scene before the local fauna decides
decides it’s dinner.”
If I thought Crew looked irritated before? Well, that was an interesting vein he had in his forehead, the kind that bulged and pulsed in a lightning bolt shape under the skin in a way that could lead to an aneurism if he wasn’t careful.
“Deputy Carlisle,” Crew snarled. “Get that fish.”
I stepped out of the way, unable to restrain my grin of delight at the sight of Robert sloshing around in my pond trying to catch Fat Benny. For a chubby koi of excessive size, he could move when he wanted to. Finally, her face twisted into a disgusted grimace, his fellow deputy lunged while Robert pounced and the pair came up with the scrap of red.
Definitely fabric, some kind of ribbon. It disappeared into a clear plastic sleeve before I could get a closer look. The glare on Crew’s face was worth it, though I caught him glancing around the garden then and cursed myself for saying anything. Because it would be just like him to slap up the damned police tape again and do a more thorough search of the entire garden. No way would he miss finding the box at that point.
I stumbled sideways as he took a half step in the wrong direction, right toward the place Petunia had been digging. I smiled up at him, did my best perky while the corner of the box bit into the bottom of my thin sneaker just under the surface of the dirt.
“In case you forgot,” I said, “you were just leaving.”
He didn’t comment, hands on hips, looking around the yard while my heart beat grew louder and stronger in my chest. He knew, he’d seen the corner sticking out. Or he suspected I was hiding something. At the very least I was giving myself away right now. Why I felt so protective of the box I had no idea, only that he would be digging it up and taking it away over my dead body.
And there had been enough death in this yard for my liking, thanks. Crew looked down at me, narrowed eyes unreadable. “If you find anything else, Miss Fleming,” he said. And then I understood. He wasn’t leaving the scene because he wanted to. If Crew Turner had his way, he’d dig up the entire garden just to see what
was here. He was being pressured. By my dad? No, by someone far scarier than John Fleming.
“Say hello to Olivia for me when you see her,” I said with just enough snark I triggered his vein and eye twitch at exactly the same time. I really shouldn’t have baited him, nor cackled inside like a maniac at his reaction. I should have been doing my best to work with him and help him solve the case. Maybe. Didn’t keep me from stepping aside and gesturing for the door to the kitchen.
“I’m sure you’ll keep me posted,” I said. And waited.
So satisfying to see him show himself out. Why, oh why then did that very nicely shaped posterior give me such delight to watch? Not just because he was leaving. I was honest enough with myself to admit it.
Even after everything, damn that man was delicious.
The instant I shifted my weight to my left foot I winced and remembered. Looked down at the little corner of the box as I moved my sneaker out of the way. I had to dig this thing up and now. Before Crew found a way around the mayor’s bullying and came back to finish the job of ruining my life.
Petunia’s woof warned me, raised my head and though the smiling and waving Peggy over the fence was about the least threatening thing that had happened to me in the last two days, I still hesitated. The sweet old lady would have a million questions about the box, I imagined, and the part of me that wanted to protect it didn’t even want an old friend of Grandmother Iris’s to lay eyes on it before I knew what was inside.
Dad may have talked me out of becoming an actual detective, but he couldn’t take the curiosity I was born with away.
I waved back, kicking more dirt in a show of being irritated with the cops and the mess they left behind before heading for the house, Petunia at my heels. I’d come out here tonight and dig it up when no one was looking. Hide it in the wheelbarrow with weed cuttings. Perfect.
And very satisfying, considering.
A feeling that fizzled out when I entered the kitchen to Daisy’s smile. Not that I wasn’t happy to see her—and on time for once—but the small,
wrapped box with the beautiful red bow in her hands made me stop and stare. And wince.
“Can you please make sure Lucy gets this for me?” Mom’s birthday. I’d totally forgotten. Damn it. I took the present from Daisy as she blushed faintly. “I know she hates gifts, but I wanted her to have something.” Daisy tinkled a giggle, her multiple silver bangles jingling in tune with her laugh, the pretty blue dress she wore today making her look right out of the 50’s.
“Thanks, Daisy,” I said. “I’ll take it tonight.”
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