The Sweetheart Bargain (A Sweetheart Sisters Novel) (4 page)

BOOK: The Sweetheart Bargain (A Sweetheart Sisters Novel)
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“It’s okay, puppy. I’ll wait. I’m here for . . .” She glanced again at the decaying buildings she had inherited, now complicated by an injured dog off somewhere licking his wounds and a run-in with a surly neighbor. She had a mountain to climb ahead of her, but the sense of purpose surged in her chest. She could do this. She
would
do this. “A long while.”

She dropped a treat form her hand onto the ground. There would be time to work with the dog, to earn his trust. Time to change the dog’s life.

Olivia headed back to her property. She paused in front of the dilapidated renovation project that had become her inheritance and her home and called Miss Sadie to her side. Olivia had spent the year since her divorce trying to regroup, refocus, figure out who she was and what she wanted. Here in Rescue Bay, she had a chance to do all of that, while also finding her roots and discovering the truth about Bridget Tuttle. It was an opportunity, she told herself. The one she’d wanted for so long.

Miss Sadie propped her paws on Olivia’s knee. She bent down and gave the bichon an ear scratching. “We’ve got our work cut out for us, don’t we, Miss Sadie?” Then she glanced again at the house, and the reality of the disaster in front of her washed over Olivia. The place needed a new porch, a new roof, new siding—and that was just the
outside
.

“I don’t even know where to start. Or heck, how to hammer a nail.” What had she gotten herself into? Her resolve wavered and she glanced at the dog, trying to convince herself more than Miss Sadie. “We can do it. Right?”

The dog barked, and the bravado that had held Olivia together for fourteen hundred miles crumpled. Burning tears rushed to the surface and spilled down her cheeks. She dropped to the ground and gathered the only friend she had in Rescue Bay into her arms.

Two

Greta Winslow celebrated her eighty-third birthday the way she celebrated most everything: with a heaping plate of windmill cookies and a double shot of Maker’s Mark. Her father had been a Jim Beam man. He’d line up his empty liters along the top of the kitchen cabinets, and as the collection grew, they created a prism when the morning light first hit. When Greta was a little girl, she’d sit at the scarred kitchen table, the one with the black divot in the center from one of Uncle Abe’s forgotten cigarettes, and watch the dance of colors. By the time her father died at the ripe old age of ninety-seven, the bottle row was two, some places three deep, but the rainbow still came every morning. Greta missed that rainbow. Missed her daddy something fierce, too. So she started her day the way her father always had. With a few nips of the hard stuff.

Esther Gerke frowned at the shimmering contraband amber liquid in Greta’s glass. “Does Doc Harper know you’re drinking that? At this time of day?”

“Doc Harper is still drying the ink on his degree. I like that boy, but he’s got a lot to learn about getting old.” Just to spite Esther, Greta took a long sip of the bourbon. It slid down her throat in one warm, practiced move. “Besides, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt me.”

Esther’s lips knitted into a knot. “It’s scandalous. Drinking that”—she waved a hand at the glass—“devil’s brew. And in here, no less.” The last she added in a whisper, with a worried glance at the staff across the room.

Greta had been sneaking drinks into the morning room from day one. A couple bottles of Jim for the staff at major holidays and they all turned a blind eye to her morning “coffee.” “Esther Gerke, I have seen you imbibe a time or two. Why that time at the Casino Night, you had three—”

“It was after five.” She sat back in her chair as if that settled the issue. Beside her, a wedding ring quilt formed a lumpy blue-and-white cloud that poufed up and across the long table. Every Thursday morning for as long as anyone could remember—which at their age, wasn’t much beyond breakfast—the Ladies’ Quilting Club had met in the big room in the back of the Daily Grind across the street. Then the coffee shop had shut down, no word, no notice, and they’d had to move their quilting to the morning room at the Golden Years Retirement Village—a fancy name for an assisted-living facility that charged a small fortune to provide the comforts of home while a nursing staff hovered and fretted. Greta would have been just fine staying in her own house, at her own kitchen table, but her son had insisted on forking over the cash to keep her “safe.” More like under constant observation like a captured escapee in Alcatraz. Greta didn’t get into trouble, exactly; more like trouble found her.

So she got distracted sometimes. She forgot to shut off the stove, left the front door open, and occasionally forgot to pay at the Sav-A-Lot. Edward worried too much, and overreacted too often, acting more like a mother hen than a child.

Greta now lived at Golden Years and sat in the bright yellow-and-white morning room with all the other little old ladies—of which she was the smallest and the youngest—purportedly quilting while they sat in high-backed oak chairs with wide cushioned seats and watched other residents drift in and out of the room. Greta had been bringing the same set of squares for the last six months. She didn’t quilt—she groused. And that suited her just fine.

“What’d I miss?” Pauline Lewis breezed into the morning room in a burst of Estée Lauder. A waterfall of personal possessions tumbled out of her hands and into an empty chair—tote bag, purse, wool coat, knitted hat. Pauline dressed like an Eskimo heading to the Antarctic for the twenty-yard walk from her villa to the main building.

“Esther has been questioning my choice of morning beverage,” Greta said. “Again.”

Pauline leaned over and gave the Maker’s Mark a sniff. “Nothing wrong with a little bourbon. Especially on your birthday.”

Esther’s lips knitted up tight.

“Anyway, I’m glad you two are here,” Pauline said. She dug in her purse and pulled out a stack of envelopes. “Because I have an idea.”

Greta groaned. “The last idea you had nearly got me killed.”

Pauline waved that off, sending another Estée Lauder draft into the space. “You had fun on the kayak trip. And getting in the water is good for your skin. Besides, you’re the one who keeps complaining a quilting club is boring.”

“It is. It’s what old women do.”

Esther arched a darkly penciled brow. The woman of many facial expressions. And many floral dresses. Today’s was a bright pink peony pattern that hurt Greta’s eyes. “I happen to love quilting.”

“I’d rather stick this needle in my eye.” Greta held up the silver object of her pain and brandished it near her eye.

“Don’t go doing that.” Pauline dumped an envelope into each of their laps. “Guess who died?”

“Harold Twohig. Please say Harold Twohig.”

“Greta, you are a horrible person. That man is your neighbor.”

“No. He’s the devil incarnate who happens to live next door.” Greta sent a scowl at the easterly wall, and hoped Harold felt it in his bones.

Esther made the sign of the cross on her chest and whispered up a silent prayer. Probably asking God to smite Greta for her unneighborly thoughts. God didn’t do any smiting. Not so much as a rumble of thunder. The Man Upstairs knew Harold well.

“Common Sense Carla,” Pauline said.

“Who?”

“The advice columnist for the
Rescue Bay Daily
. Remember that woman who told Mitchell Walker that cleaning in the buff was perfectly fine?”

“Poor man ended up at the minute clinic for hours.” Esther shook her head. “Who knew rust remover could do so much damage?”

“Clearly, she shouldn’t have named herself Common Sense anything,” Greta added.

Pauline shuddered, then leaned forward. “Anyway, as soon as I heard about Carla’s demise, I . . . well, I took advantage of the opportunity.”

“Took advantage?” Greta hadn’t known Pauline to take advantage of anything other than the front of the line on Thursday buffet nights. “How?”

“I signed up as the new Carla.” Pauline beamed.

“You?” Greta scoffed. “I’m sorry, Pauline, but you don’t give the best advice. And you aren’t exactly overflowing with common sense.”

“I am too.” Pauline pouted.

Esther leaned forward. “Has anyone seen the yellow thread? I need to tack my corners.”

“Pauline, face it. Your advice is . . .” Greta searched for a polite word. Didn’t find one. “Terrible.”

Pauline pouted until her lower lip looked like that of an overdone Hollywood actress. “It is not.”

“You advised Jerry Beakins to work out his issues with his neighbor over a cup of coffee. You know the result of that? Second. Degree.
Burns.

“I never told him to
throw
the coffee,” Pauline said. “He was supposed to use his words. Not his coffee.”

“Where is that yellow thread?” Esther patted the space in front of Greta, then bent down to search under the table. “Are you sitting on it, Greta?”

“And you also told Betty Croucher that bee stings would help with her gout. Silly woman damned near had to buy an Epi-Pen factory.” Greta wagged a finger at Pauline. “That is why this is a bad idea. We need an advice columnist who can actually give advice. Not inspire lawsuits.” Though to be honest, the local paper had a circulation of, at most, a few thousand, so it wasn’t like Pauline could wreak worldwide destruction or anything.

Pauline pouted. “I already told the paper I’d be the new Carla. My first column is due tomorrow.” She dropped a pile of papers onto the table. “And now I have all these letters to go through, to pick the best one for my debut column.”

“Maybe I can use white instead.” Esther got back to searching the table. “Has anyone seen the white thread?”

The door to the morning room opened and in a whoosh of sunshine, Olivia Linscott entered the room. Olivia had come to work at Golden Years a few days ago, and Greta had liked her instantly. A major miracle, because Greta didn’t like most people, and with good reason.

Olivia was a beautiful young woman—the kind people called willowy—with long blond hair, an easy smile, and wide green eyes. She almost always wore a dress, something the traditionalist in Greta liked, and only had a kind word for others. She entered the room and instantly seemed to make it . . . well, happier.

A snowy-white bichon frise marched beside Olivia, wearing a red vest emblazoned with
THERAPY DIVA
in glittering rhinestones, and
MISS SADIE
scrawled beneath that in stitched white cursive letters. Olivia, an animal trainer or some such thing, and the . . . what was that term she used? It took Greta a second, a second she blamed on the bourbon, and then she remembered. Olivia was an animal-assisted therapist. She and Miss Sadie worked with the folks at Golden Years, encouraging those who were antisocial to open up and those who complained about physical therapy to smile, and in general, just brightened the place.

Truth be told, Olivia’s enthusiasm reminded Greta of herself at that age. Back when Greta had seen everything in the world as half full. Now she watched the sand in her personal hourglass empty more each day. What she wouldn’t give to be in Olivia’s shoes, embarking on a new life, one where love and adventure lurked around every corner. Course, if it were Greta’s life, she’d be doing it without the silly diva dog. A girl traveled fastest alone—and in sensible shoes.

“Oh, look, it’s Olivia!” Esther got to her feet and did a paradeworthy wave. “Toodles, Olivia!”

Olivia and her little dog crossed to the quilting table, Olivia’s high heels clicking on the tile floor. Miss Sadie plopped to the floor, her tongue lolling. “Why, good morning, ladies. Are you quilting today?”

“We would if we had some thread.” Esther pouted. “I know I put it on the table. Why, I had three whole spools with me and now they’ve disappeared.”

“Isn’t that the strangest thing? Your thread is always disappearing on quilting day.” Olivia shot a glance in Greta’s direction. “Greta, have you seen Esther’s thread?”

“Why, no. Not at all,” Greta said.

“Maybe it rolled off the table,” Olivia said. “Did you check the floor? I think it might be
under a chair
or something.”

BOOK: The Sweetheart Bargain (A Sweetheart Sisters Novel)
5.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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