For the Birds:Rose Gardner Investigations #2By: Denise Grover Swank
(Rose Gardner Investigatons)
Rose Gardner Investigations #2
I hadn’t intended to start off my day with a hostage negotiation, much less for it to happen at my landscaping company.
“Just put the gun down, and nobody gets hurt.”
“But he took Mr. Bearington!” my niece Ashley said, pointing a water gun at her brother. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes had filled with tears. “He’s going to rip his head off!”
“No, he’s not.” I turned to her brother, then said with forced patience, “Mikey. Give the bear back to your sister.”
“He’s not just a bear, Aunt Rose!” Ashley protested, waving the pistol. Lord only knew where she’d gotten it . . . probably from my best friend Neely Kate’s desk drawer. “He’s Mr. Bearington, and Mommy gave him to me before she left.”
Before my sister Violet left for Houston for chemo and a bone marrow transplant. She was finally coming home this afternoon, and everyone was on edge. The kids hadn’t seen her in over three months. The last time they saw her, she’d just been through an aggressive round of chemo, and they’d had to wear masks and gowns whenever they were near her. Both kids had returned with nightmares.
I knelt down in front of my two-year-old nephew, who eyed me with distrust—not that I was surprised. I hadn’t seen much of him or Ashley in the last six months, and six months had been a quarter of his life. Mike had asked me to keep my visits with them to a minimum. He’d claimed that seeing me reminded them that their mother was gone. I’d agreed to it in the beginning, but something felt off. His parents were out of town this week, which had made me the most logical person to watch the kids while he flew to Houston to bring Violet home, but he’d seemed reluctant to accept my offer.
“Ashley loves Mr. Bearington. Don’t you want to give him back to her?”
His tiny brow furrowed and his lips puckered as he shook his head in defiance. “No.”
I narrowed my eyes at him as I tried to figure out how to handle the situation. I could just reach out and take the bear from him, but I was hoping to reach a more diplomatic solution.
The jingling bell on the front door of my office alerted me that someone was walking in, but I was too invested in my battle of wills with a toddler to greet them.
“This looks like a standoff—and I would know.” The voice unmistakably belonged to Joe, my best friend’s brother.
I turned and saw him standing in the doorway in his sheriff’s uniform, his broad shoulders filling the space. Though I was exasperated with my nephew, Joe’s grin was contagious.
“What seems to be the problem here?” he asked, walking in and closing the door behind him.
“Uncle Joe,” Ashley said as she ran for him and wrapped herself around his leg. “Mikey won’t give me Mr. Bearington.”
Uncle Joe. The name caught me off guard. Ashley had started calling him Uncle Joe last summer, while he and I were dating, and she’d kept it up because he’d lived next door to my sister for a while after our breakup.
He leaned over and cupped her tiny shoulder with his large hand. “Let me see what I can do. I’m pretty good with negotiations.” Joe grabbed my desk chair and rolled it in front of Mikey and took a seat, making him closer to the boy’s height. “Hey, Mikey. Remember me?”
Mikey glared up at him and shook his head, clutching the bear tighter.
Joe grinned. “That’s okay. It’s been a while, but you and I go way back.” Joe leaned closer and lowered his voice. “It just so happens that I know your favorite ice cream used to be strawberry. Is it still strawberry?”
Mikey’s eyes widened in surprise, and he nodded.
“If you give Ashley back her bear, I’ll take you over to Dena’s cupcake shop and get you some ice cream. What do you say to that?”
“I’d say that’s bribery,” I said. “And it’s only ten in the morning.”
Joe glanced up at me, his eyes twinkling. “You’re just sorry I thought of it first.”
I tried to glare at him but couldn’t quite pull it off. “Okay. Maybe.”