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Blair, Rickie. From Garden To Grave

The realtor, Nellie Quintero, muttered for forty-five minutes straight during our tour of Rose Cottage before turning to me by the porch and lowering the boom.

“I’m sorry, Verity, but you’ll never be able to sell this place. It’s falling apart.”

I hadn’t intended to sell anything, but I had hoped to present Aunt Adeline with options when—or if—she returned. She couldn’t run a money-losing business forever. “Isn’t the land worth something?” “Well, yes, but…”

“A developer could buy it, couldn’t they? Tear it down, build a bigger house?”

“New homes aren’t approved anymore unless they have two acres of land. Even then, current building codes require an upgraded septic system, which costs at least twenty grand, and a new well, which would be another three thousand or more. Not to mention a new electric pump and water tank.”

So much for carefree country living, I thought. “None of those need replacing in the meantime, do they?” My voice sounded anxious even to me. “I don’t know. You’d have to get an inspector out here to look them over. That’s not your only challenge. I’m not an engineer, but it looks as if you might have foundation problems. You’ll also need a new roof, or at least good patchwork, before the winter.”

“That sounds expensive.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Couldn’t Rose Cottage be sold as a fixer-upper?”

Nellie tapped her finger on her chin, sweeping her gaze around the yard. “Not with your aunt’s mortgage. If you sell this as it is, you won’t clear enough to pay off the lien.”

“What would happen then?”

“Her estate would be bankrupt and her belongings auctioned off to make up the difference.” Nellie pointed to my aunt’s truck. “You could get a few thousand for that, and another thousand for her mower and tools.” “But then I couldn’t run the landscaping business.”

“I thought you didn’t want to.”

I regarded the porch’s peeling paint. Selling my aunt’s house might be the expedient route, but bankruptcy wasn’t right. Aunt Adeline worked hard during her life. Assuming she was dead—still a big “if” in my mind—she wouldn’t want to go out like that.

“Thanks for viewing the house,” I said. “I’ll think about it some more.” Nellie swept her long, blonde hair over her shoulder with one hand and fixed her crystal blue eyes on me. “There’s another obstacle, Verity. It sounds ridiculous, but some people think Rose Cottage is… haunted.” “Haunted? You must be kidding. Who would—”

“Not me,” Nellie broke in with a nervous laugh, glancing over her shoulder at the cottage while stepping farther away. “I don’t believe that. It does seem to have a mind of its own though.”

I recalled the weird deadbolts, the sticky basement door, the whirs and clicks in the ceiling, the faulty water heater, and the wonky lights. “I can’t imagine why anyone would think that,” I said. “It seems like a normal house to me. Charming, even.”

I was catching on to this real estate business. I might make it my next career.

Nellie hiked her eyebrows with a playful smile. I got the impression she’d heard similar patter before. “You’re right. Rose Cottage is charming. And we often get requests for houses like this from young professional couples who want to leave the city. They love anything they can attach a heritage plaque to.” She chuckled. “And maybe add a chicken or two.” Her expression grew serious, and she let out a long sigh. “Verity, I’d love to sell your aunt’s house and collect the commission. I could use the cash. But I’d be lying if I said you’d make any money. We can list it, sure, but I don’t recommend it. Fix it up first, and then we can talk.”

As we contemplated the cottage, a cracked shingle slid off the roof and shattered into splinters at our feet. I narrowed my eyes at it. Traitor. “If it’s not saleable,” I asked, “why did Wilf recommend you come out

As we contemplated the cottage, a cracked shingle slid off the roof and shattered into splinters at our feet. I narrowed my eyes at it. Traitor. “If it’s not saleable,” I asked, “why did Wilf recommend you come out

As we contemplated the cottage, a cracked shingle slid off the roof and shattered into splinters at our feet. I narrowed my eyes at it. Traitor. “If it’s not saleable,” I asked, “why did Wilf recommend you come out

to see it?”

Nellie swept her gaze over the cottage’s roof, frowning. “I don’t know. Maybe he thought…” She shrugged. “He probably hasn’t been out here for a while. Listen, if you’re staying, you need to fix a few things. Especially that roof. It will never make it through the winter without repairs.” She rummaged through her shoulder bag, pulled out a white business card, and handed it to me. It had been torn from a perforated sheet of do-it-yourself stationery. I read the spidery longhand.

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