Family Jewels: Rose Garder Investigations #1(7)

By: Denise Grover Swank


“So where do we find Raddy Dyer?” I asked as I followed her into the crowded coffee shop. Turned out half the courthouse was in the long narrow space.

“Archer’s Hardware,” Neely Kate said, searching the menu board as we took our place in the back of the long line. “He runs the plumbing department.”

“I’m not sure I should be goin’ in there,” I muttered. “You know they hate me now.”

The owner of Archer’s Hardware had been none too happy with Violet and me since we’d opened the nursery, although I wasn’t sure why. While they used to sell plants in the spring and early summer, they’d done a poor job of taking care of them. Each year had marked a new massacre—the plants would look fresh enough at first, but on each successive visit, another half dozen would have joined the crispy half-off shelf. Truth be told, that was part of the reason I’d agreed to open the nursery in the first place. There’d been no decent places in Henryetta to buy bedding plants.

Neely Kate waved her hand dismissively as she continued to search the menu. “It’s just the owner who’s ticked. Remember that thank-you card and five-dollar gift certificate we got from a few of the employees, telling you how grateful they were to not have to mess with the greenhouse and all those plants? They were gonna have a Garden Witch Day in your honor.”

I shook my head with a scowl. “I can’t help thinking that gift card was a trick to get me to come in, because I’m pretty sure the whole witch thing wasn’t a compliment, Neely Kate.”

“Sure it was. It was like calling you the Good Witch of the South. Just like in The Wizard of Oz.”

“Witch of the East.”

She gave me a haughty look. “I’m not sure what you learned in geography, Rose Gardner, but we’re in the South.”

I pushed out a heavy sigh and realized it wasn’t worth the effort to correct her. “So what do you know about Raddy Dyer?” I asked.

“Nothin’ good,” I heard a male voice say behind me.

I spun around in surprise to see my former boyfriend. “Joe.”

He was wearing his tan sheriff’s uniform, and I had to admit he was stunningly handsome in it. But at the moment, he also wore a frown. “Why are you asking about Raddy Dyer?”

I gave Neely Kate a look that said, This is your idea, so you take this one.

Instead, she smiled ear-to-ear and threw her arms around his neck. “It’s my favorite brother.”

He gave her an affectionate hug.

A lump swelled in my throat at the sight of them. They were both, to their shared disgust, the children of J.R. Simmons. They had only learned that they were half-siblings back in February. Joe had left town soon after and ignored Neely Kate for a couple of months. But he’d finally reached out to her when he came back to Henryetta around the first of May, and they’d started making up for nearly twenty-five years of lost time. After Neely Kate’s mother’s abandonment, Neely Kate needed a family member who was truly there for her.

Joe grabbed a strand of Neely Kate’s hair and gently tugged. “And it’s my mischievous sister. What are you two up to?”

Neely Kate stepped back, and her eyes widened in mock innocence. “We’re getting coffee, of course. What are you doin’?”

His eyes darkened. “I just got done taking the new DA to task for caving with one of your divorce attorney’s clients.”

“Carter Hale?” Neely Kate asked in surprise.

He lifted an eyebrow in mock annoyance. “You have more than one divorce attorney?”

It was her turn to scowl. “I’d hire a dozen if I thought any of them could find my missing husband.”

Since Neely Kate was Carter Hale’s only divorce case, I presumed that Joe was referring to a criminal client.

Joe’s shoulders dropped. “I’ve been looking, Neely Kate.”

“You and everyone and his brother,” she said sarcastically. “We’re not meant to find him.” But he’d been gone a long time, and her phrasing told me that she suspected he was dead.

Joe had returned to his chief deputy sheriff position a month ago, and one of the first things he’d done was launch an investigation into the whereabouts of Neely Kate’s missing husband, Ronnie. He’d left her months ago, and Neely Kate and I had later discovered that he had some bad connections—ones that had tied him, however peripherally, to J.R. Simmons. When J.R. Simmons’ empire had come tumbling down, it had taken plenty of lives with it. I knew Neely Kate believed Ronnie had been one of the casualties, and the evidence seemed to support it. It was like he’d fallen off the face of the earth, and so far, Joe and Carter’s multiple private investigators hadn’t turned up a single clue.

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