Family Jewels: Rose Garder Investigations #1(9)

By: Denise Grover Swank


It didn’t take a genius to tell this was about more than coffee. The last thing Neely Kate wanted was to be taken for a mooch. Joe and his sister Kate came from the infamous Simmons family, which had—up until recently—meant money, power, and prestige. So when Joe abruptly left town in February, Neely Kate had worried it was because of her, that he’d thought his new little sister would want a paycheck. He’d since explained himself—he’d gone home to settle his father’s estate and had only kept away from Neely Kate for so long out of his own shame. But it was going to take her a long time to get over it.

“Thanks, Joe,” I said as we sidled out of line.

He shot me a worried look and whispered in my ear, low enough that Neely Kate couldn’t hear, “It comes with strings.”

The mere fact that he’d whispered it insinuated that it involved my best friend. No doubt he’d tell me in good time.

“Okay.”

Joe took a step back, then addressed us both. “How’s your new employee working out? It’s your cousin, right?”

Neely Kate groaned. “Let’s just say the Rivers branches of my family tree hang so low they’re takin’ root.”

“So, not good?” he asked dryly.

“This is a story best told over a beer,” I said. “Want to come over for dinner tonight?”

His eyebrows lifted in surprise, and Neely Kate shot me a questioning look. I’d mostly left him alone since his return to town. For one, he was my ex-boyfriend and we’d found a shaky truce. I didn’t want to chance it, especially since he held a stake in my nursery—another long story. And two, Joe and Neely Kate had been finding their way toward a new family dynamic, and I’d tried to give them space. But if Joe was going to have a real relationship with Neely Kate, and she was living with me, I needed to make sure he felt welcome at my farmhouse.

“Sure . . .” he said with hesitation. Then he grinned. “Are you cooking or are we having deli sandwiches?”

I lightly smacked his arm. “Just for that, I’ll burn your portion.”

He grinned and my heart lightened at the happiness I saw on his face. It had been hard-won. “I’ll bring the beer,” he said. “What time?”

“How about seven?” I asked as the owner handed me a cup.

“Sounds good,” Joe said. “I’ll tell Maeve she can take a night off from bringing me food.” The owner handed over Joe’s coffee next, and Joe shot a look at Neely Kate before ushering me toward the door.

“Hey!” Neely Kate protested. “I ordered my coffee first!”

“This ain’t Little Rock,” Vance said with an exaggerated drawl. “We’re not used to those newfangled drinks.”

“You have ’em right on your board!” Neely Kate protested as she pointed to the sign. She didn’t seem to notice when Joe and I slipped out the front door.

“What’s up?” I asked when we were on the sidewalk outside. An awning protected us from the slight rain.

“I may have a lead on Ronnie.”

I gasped. “But you just said—”

“I know. I didn’t want to say anything in front of Neely Kate.”

My nose scrunched as I studied him. “So why are you telling me?”

“I need to know why she’s really trying to find him.”

“Does it make a difference?”

“It might,” he said carefully.

“Oh.” He looked so worried that my heart went out to him. “Joe, she knows he was up to something underhanded. You don’t have to worry about upsetting her.”

“And I also know she thinks he’s dead. But what if she finds out he’s not?”

I blinked in surprise. “Where do you think he is?”

“New Orleans.”

“You’re kidding. What on earth would he be doing there?”

“Shacking up with a woman.”

I felt lightheaded. “Oh.”

“It’s nothing solid, but my gut says there’s something to it. Enough that I’m going to go down there to check it out myself.”

“Can you do that?”

“Not officially, but I can take a couple of days off and go ask some questions.”

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