For the Birds:Rose Gardner Investigations #2(6)

By: Denise Grover Swank

I was wearing a new outfit Neely Kate had persuaded me to buy—a full pink skirt with a large floral pattern, but it was the top that really pushed me out of my comfort zone, which was most likely the main reason she’d convinced me to get it. The white shirt had a slightly off-the-shoulder neckline that plunged into a deep V in both the front and back. It was completely impractical for work, but I didn’t have any site visits planned for the day, and we were planning to close the office when we went to the nursery for Violet’s welcome home party.

My nephew held out an arm and she scooped him into her arms as Joe said, “It held off World War III for a good half hour. I was just doin’ my part to save humanity.”

“Oh really?” she asked with a grin. “So why do I see some strawberry ice cream at the corner of your mouth?”

His eyes twinkling, he licked the corner of his mouth. “I was trying to save my uniform. It’s hot out there.”

“I can’t believe Dena served them ice cream,” Neely Kate said, shaking her head. “She’s pretty strict with her no ice cream until after noon policy.”

“She didn’t want to give us any,” Ashley said between licks of her chocolate cone. “She only agreed when Uncle Joe said he’d go to the carnival tonight.”

“Why would Dena care if Joe went to the carnival tonight?” I asked and instantly regretted it. “Oh.” She’d asked him to go with her.

Joe grimaced and used the napkin in his hand to wipe Mikey’s face as he quickly changed the subject. “Is Maeve still expecting us all at the nursery at a quarter to one?”

“Yeah,” I said, feeling awkward. The only woman Joe had been with after our breakup was his long-time, on-and-off-again girlfriend, Hilary, and even then, he’d been pressured into it. As far as I knew, this was the first time he’d agreed to go out with someone with actual girlfriend potential.

I hadn’t thought much about Joe not dating. He’d been through a lot over the last year and a half. In February, he’d killed his father (to save me), his sister had been arrested for killing Hilary and their unborn baby, and he’d found out that Neely Kate was his half sister. One of those things would have been enough to throw a man for a serious loop, let alone three.

Maybe he was finally ready to move on, which was a good thing. I wanted Joe to be happy. Still, there was no denying the thought of seeing him with someone new made me feel slightly uncomfortable.

“Then maybe we’ll see you there,” Neely Kate said. “Rose and I are goin’ too.”

Joe looked a little uncomfortable too. It was obvious he’d like to be anywhere other than standing in my office talking about his date with his sister and ex-girlfriend.

“Well,” he said, running his hand over his head. “I need to talk to the prosecutor and tie up some things before I see you at the nursery.” He bolted out the door before we could say anything else.

“Hmm . . .” Neely Kate said, watching him jaywalk across the street. “What do you make of that?” But the tone in her voice suggested she knew exactly what to make of it.

“It’s not any of my concern.” And it wasn’t. My biggest concern at the moment was breaking the news about Scooter to Bruce Wayne. He’d be joining us at the party, but I didn’t want to wait. Which made me even more surprised that Neely Kate had held out on us for so long. I grabbed my purse and stood. “But there’s something that is. I need to go see Bruce Wayne at the job site. Can you watch the kids?”

She caught my short tone. “Yeah.” She set Mikey down on the floor and moved toward her desk. “Bruce Wayne doesn’t have the altered plans for the Greens’ backyard. He’s not supposed to get to it until tomorrow, but would you drop them off just in case?”

“Of course.”

She dug through a stack of documents on her desk, then handed me a paper. I reached for it, but she held on and looked me in the eyes.

“I’m sorry, Rose.”

“You should have told me, Neely Kate.”

“It wasn’t for me to tell. Jed asked me to keep it quiet, so I did.”

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