For Whom the Bluebell Tolls

BOOK: For Whom the Bluebell Tolls
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Praise for the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries

Bloom and Doom


Bloom and Doom
captivated my attention from the very first page. With the meanings of flowers skillfully woven throughout the story, it was as delightful as a freshly cut bouquet of ranunculus (radiant charm) and tarragon (lasting interest). . . . A thoroughly entertaining and engaging mystery! I can’t wait for the next one!”

—Jenn McKinlay,
New York Times
bestselling author

“It’s an engaging bouquet of mayhem and murder. What a delight for cozy readers!”

—Erika Chase, national bestselling author of the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries

“Allen’s upbeat series debut reads smoothly and easily, with excellent dialogue and an immensely likable cast. . . . The flower business really stars in this cozy.”


Library Journal

“A highly entertaining, fun, and snappy mystery . . .
Bloom and Doom
has everything to keep you engaged: a compelling murder to be solved, great humor, warm friendship, and the language of flowers.”

—CriminalElement.com

“Provides readers with a fresh twist on the amateur-sleuth story.”

—Booklist

“A terrific start to a new series.”

—Suspense Magazine

“Has all the ingredients that make up a charming cozy mystery—likable characters, good mystery, and a little fun and romance thrown in.”

—Fresh Fiction

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Beverly Allen

BLOOM AND DOOM

FOR WHOM THE BLUEBELL TOLLS

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

FOR WHOM THE BLUEBELL TOLLS

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2015 by Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

Excerpt from
Floral Depravity
by Beverly Allen copyright © 2015 by Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-60948-4

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / January 2015

Cover illustration by Ben Perini.

Cover design by Diana Kolsky.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Dedicated to Him whose words bring life.

Acknowledgments

In the language of flowers, the larkspur can stand for
brightness
,
lightness
, or
levity
. And I have a bouquet to distribute to my very bright critique partners and readers: Christine Bress (who also reviewed Audrey’s flower designs), Janice Cline, Anita Mae Draper, Aric Gaughan, Kathy Hurst, Debra Marvin, Niki Turner, and Lynne Wallace-Lee. Together, they have kept me from turning in a manuscript featuring a man with a tick in his face (tic), concealing cheese (congealing), and taught muscles (taut). Hence the levity.

I also have double daffodils of
regard
for my agent, Kim Lionetti, and my fantastic editor, Katherine Pelz, and all the other wonderful folks at Berkley.

For the readers who have told me how much you enjoyed
Bloom and Doom
, small white bellflowers to show my
gratitude
.

Purple violets for my family.
You occupy my thoughts
.

Contents

Praise for the Bridal Bouquet Shop Mysteries

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Beverly Allen

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Special Preview of
Floral Depravity

Chapter 1

“Audrey, I . . .”

I stood on my front stoop, hand-in-hand with Nick Maxwell after one of our sporadic dinner dates. The moon cooperated, already aglow in the dusky sky, and a gentle breeze stirred the leaves in the trees—very welcome after the heat of the day. I closed my eyes, waiting for our good-night kiss.

Chester interrupted our romantic moment, scratching on the glass window and yowling for me to get inside and serve his every whim. (Did I mention Chester is my cat?) My neighbor Tom added percussion to the feline chorus, using the last remaining moments of daylight to tack up a Fourth of July banner a few feet away. Ah, the joys of apartment living. Then my phone started ringing in my living room.

“I should let you get that. Good night, Audrey.” Nick planted a chaste kiss on my forehead and gave my hand a squeeze before sending Tom a wave and walking back to his truck.

I leaned against the door frame for a moment and watched him go. I knew Nick was encouraged by the growth of the bakery, which now supplied fresh baked goods and breads to local restaurants. But his early hours had really taken a toll on our date time.

Meanwhile, my phone had stopped ringing. I opened my door as the answering machine picked up. A click showed that the caller declined to leave a message.

I bumped my behemoth of a window air conditioner up to the max, then made my way to the kitchen with Chester nipping at my ankles and weaving around my legs. I spooned out a half can of something labeled “Fresh Seafood,” but which smelled more like the Dumpster behind a sushi restaurant. He didn’t seem to mind. I managed to refill his water dish before the phone rang again.

I carried the receiver so I could stand in front of the roaring air conditioner, then lifted my ponytail so the chilled air hit the back of my neck. “Hello?”

“Audrey, where have you been? I’ve been calling all night.”

Letting my hair fall, I jerked into my full and upright position. “Hey, Brad.” Where I’d been was none of his business. Not anymore. Brad the Cad had blown his chance with me. I really needed to get caller ID.

“Listen, Audrey, I’m coming back to Ramble.”

Well, let’s call the town band and organize a parade, why don’t we? But instead of saying that, I sank onto the sofa. “Coming back?”

“Just for a visit. Well, work, really.”

“How nice for you.”

“Aw, come on, Audrey. I know you’re upset with me, but I hoped we could talk. Clear the air. There might be a job in it for you. A huge wedding.”

“Are you getting married?” A logical question, considering I made my living as a florist specializing in wedding bouquets at the Rose in Bloom, the shop that my cousin Liv and I owned.

A long pause was followed by a slow inhalation and exhalation. “No, Audrey. I’m not getting married. You were right. New York isn’t exactly what I thought it would be. I really messed up when I left you behind.”

I swallowed hard. For a long time I’d dreamed of hearing those words. And I’d rehearsed all kinds of reactions, ranging from running into his arms—hard to do over the phone—and stomping on his foot with my highest and spikiest pair of heels—equally hard to do over the phone.

“Yeah?” Okay, so that wasn’t one of the reactions I’d practiced.

“Look, I’m coming back with the whole film crew.”

“I thought the show you were working on was canceled.”

“It was. Who knew
The Lumberjack Logs
would turn out to be such a yawn? But a friend hooked me up with
Fix My Wedding
. I’m the production assistant. Might even make associate producer, with a little more experience.”

“And they’re coming to Ramble?” My ears perked up.
Fix My Wedding
had become one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Gigi Welch’s snarky treatment of brides brought them to tears as she mocked their original—and usually tacky—plans. Then her cohort, Gary Davoll, would sweep in like a fairy godfather and whisk the bride away, spoiling her like a princess. I won’t say the elaborate weddings they staged were much less tacky than the bride’s original plans, but the show had chemistry. And I could justify the hours I spent watching it by labeling the time as work—research for anyone in the bridal industry.

“Yep. And I might have had something to do with that.” Pride rang in his voice. “The original venue fell through. The bride in question is nuts—”

“Aren’t they usually?”

“Same old Audrey. Quick-witted and never letting me finish a sentence.” The tone in his voice was teasing and cheerful. It belonged to the old charming Brad I had dated, not the monster I’d recast him as since the breakup. I shifted my emotions to defensive mode. I would not fall for him again. I would not . . .

“Anyway,” he continued, “The bride is nutty about bells, and I told her about the hand-rung bell in the old First Baptist. I showed Gary and Gigi pictures of some of the other local assets, so they’re going to hold the wedding at the church and the reception at the Ashbury.”

Oh, lovely. The Ashbury. The restaurant where Brad dumped me. This was getting better by the minute. “And you said there might be a job for me?”

“Yes, I showed Gigi and Gary the article about you in the paper, and they thought the whole language-of-flowers thing was cute. Said a local florist with that kind of reputation might make the episode more interesting. Well, ‘
quaint
,’ they said, but you know Gigi.”

“And the bride’s crazy about bells?” My brain started turning. I’d seen bell-shaped vases that might work. Maybe campanula, also known as bellflowers, or any of the other flower varieties that resembled bells. Or was that too literal?

The meanings were suitable. Bellflowers signified
constancy
, a great meaning for a marriage, and the small white ones meant
gratitude
. Of course, the bluebell also could signify
sorrowful regret
, but maybe I could steer her away from that color. Not all of the bellflowers are commonly used by many florists, but I was sure I could get my hands on them if needed. And if I couldn’t, Liv was a whiz at acquisition.

“Yes, some fetish with bells,” he continued. “We’re busing in a bell choir to perform at the ceremony. Guests are ringing little silver bells instead of throwing rice. I think Gary is even arranging to have bells woven into her dress. Crazy, huh? But that’s why people watch the show. I hope you’re not overbooked and can squeeze in the wedding. Mom said the shop has been real busy.”

“When is the wedding?”

“Um, we’re coming next week. Like I said, the other venue canceled at the last minute. Can you do it? I know it’s the middle of summer. It has to be a busy time for weddings.”

Proving once again that Brad never paid attention. July might be a prime time for a wedding in many parts of the country. But in Ramble, Virginia, where most weddings were held at the old First Baptist, which lacked air conditioning, or outside in the gardens of the Ashbury, local brides tended to opt for late spring or early fall, when the temperatures were more manageable.

“I should be free. I’ll have to see if Liv can source the flowers for a quick delivery. It may cost a bit more.”

“No problem,” he said. “The show has deep pockets. We’ll make sure the cost of anything you need is written into the contract. Should be some nice publicity for your shop, too.”

“Of course, I’ll have to talk it over with Liv.”

“Last time I called Mom, she told me that Liv and Eric are going to have a baby. They must be tickled pink.”

“Or blue,” I said. “They want to be surprised.”

“That’s great. Give them my best. Or I can do it when I get into town. Oh, Audrey, I’ve missed you. I’m looking forward to seeing you.”

My stomach twisted. He sounded like the same old Brad that I had dated for a year. But did I really want to see him again? And where would that leave my budding relationship (pardon the floral pun) with Nick Maxwell?

“Yes, Brad, I’m looking forward to seeing you again, too.”

*   *   *

I inserted the mouthpiece into my tuba and drummed my fingers across the valves. Leaning back against the creaky wood chair only reminded me of the sweat running down my back. It was bad enough that Mayor Watkins decided the arriving film crew needed a formal welcome from the town band. That he’d decreed we be in our military-style uniforms—wool pants, wool coats with leather overlays and epaulets, and leather hats—on one of the hottest days of the year was more than I could take. At least we could play in the shade of the gazebo and not march down Main Street.

Welcome home, Brad, I thought. You almost got your parade after all.

Liv hopped up onto the special pedestal constructed to accommodate her petite frame (not a family trait I inherited), adjusted the music stand above her burgeoning belly, and tapped the stand with her baton. As the conductor, she hadn’t had to dress in the stifling uniform. Not that they came in maternity sizes, anyway.

“The film crew has been spotted about ten miles out of town,” she said, “so let’s get warmed up.”

A couple of groans from the clarinet section were followed by an anonymous, “We’re warm enough already.”

Liv smiled. “Sorry. I know those uniforms are torture. Tell you what, lemonade for everybody after this little shindig is over. My treat.” Liv nodded to Nick Maxwell’s cupcake truck stationed just off the town square, where the folk of Ramble were lined up to buy their sweet treats. Today they mainly walked away from the food truck with cold drinks.

A cacophony of woodwinds, brass, and percussion ensued as we tuned our instruments and the bassoonist tried to make a move on our newest piccolo player. When the band played a note to Liv’s satisfaction, we started cycling through the book of marches that we normally reserved for patriotic concerts. Knowing Brad, he’d arrive in town to the opening chords of “Hail to the Chief.” At least the music required enough focus that it took my attention away from the stifling heat.

It could not, however, still the butterflies doing aerobatics in my stomach over the prospect of seeing Brad. I was over him, surely, but the rational part of me decided it was a good idea to meet with him, put the past behind me, and let go of some of the bitterness I’d heaped over my heart as a bandage. Grandma Mae always said to never flog a dead horse. Since we never owned horses, dead or otherwise, I always assumed she meant we needed to let things go. So I’d determined to be cool, professional, and maybe even friendly to Brad. The cad.

We turned the page and started Sousa’s “Liberty Bell March” as the first truck crawled down Main Street and passed under the banner, which read, “Ramble Welcomes
Fix My Wedding
.” A handful of vans and cars followed, some with vinyl placards announcing the show. One, a giant recreational vehicle wrapped with Gary’s and Gigi’s oversized faces and the show’s logo, stopped in front of the town square.

The residents of Ramble rose from the sea of lawn chairs that circled the white gazebo.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw two people exit the RV. A yell erupted that overpowered our music. We were right at a section where the tuba part had only a repetitive line on the downbeats, so I watched as Gary and Gigi held hands and ran toward the gazebo.

Only this was not the sleek cosmopolitan pair that I’d come to . . . I wasn’t sure what my emotions were toward Gigi and Gary. “Love” would be overstating it. I supposed I was merely entertained and amused.

But when they climbed out of their RV in Ramble, they looked like they’d dressed for an evening of line dancing in some country-western bar. Gigi had slithered into a pair of low-slung, skintight, faded jeans and wore a plaid shirt, tight to her bosom, unbuttoned to show considerable cleavage and tied up to expose a flat, tanned midriff. She popped a cowboy hat onto her loose-flowing black hair.

If she was a little bit country, Gary looked like he had just stepped off the stage of the Grand Ole Opry. Fringe dangled from the sleeves of a sequined and embroidered pink cowboy shirt, accented with a wide Western belt, bolo tie, skinny jeans, and elaborately engraved boots. He doffed a ten-gallon—or maybe twenty-gallon—white hat, revealing his short ginger hair, and waved at the crowd as he climbed the gazebo steps.

Mayor Watkins, dressed in his conservative designer suit and tie, reached out and shook Gary’s hand, then gave Gigi a brief hug.

Then I found myself
oomp
-ing when nobody was
pah
-ing. Liv must have cut the band when I wasn’t paying attention, giving me an awkward solo. I avoided her eyes and rested my tuba on the floor.

The mayor held up his hands to mute the applause Gary and Gigi seemed to revel in. He then tapped the microphone.

“Please be seated,” he said to the crowd, amid a pulse of feedback.

He paused while the townsfolk lowered themselves into their squeaky and creaky lawn chairs.

“As mayor, it gives me great pleasure to award, this day, the key to the Town of Ramble to our most distinguished guests, Gigi Welch and Gary Davoll, hosts of the reality television show
Fix My Wedding
.” He handed the wood key to Gary and a small bouquet Liv had made for the occasion to Gigi. White lilies (
purity
and
sweetness
), pink roses (
secret love
), and alstroemeria. Some say the flower, also known as the Peruvian lily, symbolizes
friendship
and
devotion
. Others insist it’s a symbol of
prosperity
and
good fortune
. In either case, the bouquet was stunning. The photographer from the
Ramble
On
, the town’s local paper, flashed a picture of Gigi holding it.

BOOK: For Whom the Bluebell Tolls
5.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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