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Authors: Heather Webber

Trouble In Spades

BOOK: Trouble In Spades
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For my family.

All my love.

Contents

One

“Thou, Nina Colette Ceceri Quinn, shalt come back as an…

Two

Despite her three-inch heels, Maria stomped her foot like a…

Three

As usual, I was late picking up Riley. I’d never…

Four

After dropping off my mother, I drove to Maria’s condo,…

Five

The alarm beeped as I unlocked and pushed open the…

Six

Early the next morning, I barreled into my office, trying…

Seven

Out the front window, I saw Maria’s Mercedes fishtail into…

Eight

You didn’t know fear until you’d driven on a rural…

Nine

Sirens whooped to my left, and I turned in time…

Ten

All was fairly quiet on the way home from the…

Eleven

Best the medical examiner could tell without a full autopsy,…

Twelve

I dropped Riley off at Kroger and got him to… 

Thirteen

Twenty minutes later I was nestled on Ana’s overstuffed sofa,…

Fourteen

Early the next morning, I stumbled, bleary-eyed, into TBS. Between…

Fifteen

Indian Hill was a bit of a hike from the…

Sixteen

Kevin tapped on my door.

Seventeen

I looked up from my sketch pad at the knock… 

Eighteen

As I closed and locked my door early the next… 

Nineteen

I tugged on the umbrella, but he wouldn’t let it…

Twenty

I should stay out of it.

Twenty-One

“Me!?” 

Twenty-Two

I raised my hand to knock on the closed door… 

Twenty-Three

“You had to do it,” Ana said to me as…

Twenty-Four

Kit’s Hummer and Tam’s Cabriolet were in the lot when…

Twenty-Five

Two hours later it was chaos of a different sort…

Twenty-Six

I took I-75 south to 275 west/south, a route that… 

Twenty-Seven

If the puddle that appeared on the floor was any…

Twenty-Eight

“Your mother is behaving quite well,” Ana said in between…

Take Your Garden by Surprise

About the Author

Other Books by Heather Webber

Copyright

About the Publisher

One

"Thou, Nina Colette Ceceri Quinn, shalt come
back as an only child in any future lives."
I added this commandment to my ever-expanding personal list.
And I was putting it near the top. Because if I
were
an only child, then I wouldn't be standing here in my sister's backyard breaking another commandment of mine. The one where I made no exceptions to my company's carved-ingranite policy.
My unique business, Taken by Surprise, Garden Designs, had flourished in the two years it had been in existence. The appeal, I knew, lay in the fact that my crew arrived very early in the morning and was gone by nightfall, leaving the customer with a vastly different lush and beautiful landscape. The added twist to my company was that someone, usually a clueless spouse, had no idea a garden renovation was going on. Oftentimes the change was met with happiness. Less frequently, anger. And that was usually only after the clueless spouse found out how much the garden cost. Surprise makeovers weren't cheap.
Rarely (actually never) had I made an exception to my in-and-out-in-a-day rule. I'd been in the typical landscaping and lawn maintenance business for years before creating TBS and didn't particularly want to go back. Though my hours were still long, and it was pretty much the same backbreaking work, the rewards of designing surprise makeovers were addicting. But then Maria had gotten engaged. And demanded an exception.
Maria. My baby sister. As much as she annoyed me—and had since the day my mother brought her home from the hospital and she spit up breast milk on my Holly Hobby doll—I loved her. I also had a bad habit of being unable to say no to her.
I'd reluctantly agreed to do a backyard makeover for Maria and her fiancé Nate. Okay, so the guilt from my mother helped sway my decision. That, and transforming Maria's backyard, counted as her wedding gift.
Also because watching my twenty-five-year-old sister throw a tantrum of epic proportions wasn't something I needed burned into my psyche.
I already had more than enough shocking images in there to see me clear through the bottom of many, many boxes of Nilla wafers.
Honestly, I really ought to look into buying Nabisco stock. And go on a diet.
Looking down at my watch, I winced. As usual I was running behind schedule, but this time it wasn't entirely my fault. Maria was late for our meeting, making my already overloaded schedule that much more crowded.
It was closing in on three o'clock, and I still needed to head back to the office to interview prospective employees before chauffeuring my stepson Riley to his new job. Sitting on the hot concrete patio, I stared into the flat, barren backyard. It was early June and hot, hot, hot for this area of southwestern Ohio. It seemed we'd been in a heat wave for weeks now with no relief in sight.
This time of year I usually worked sixty-hour weeks, but my usual weekday workload sagged under the weight of completing Maria's yard on time. Not to mention that my day-planner overflowed with a long laundry list of extra todos just so I could take the following weekend off for her wedding.
Which was another reason it would serve me well to stick to my newest commandment.
I was Maria's matron of honor.
If it weren't so horrifying, it would be laughable.
Truth be told, I wasn't sure why Maria had even asked me to be in her wedding at all.
Except to torture me.
Hmmm.
Beyond the fact that Maria and I weren't all that close, my marriage to Kevin Quinn, Freedom PD's lead homicide detective, was in shambles. Who was I to stand up for anyone at a wedding? I'd fought tooth and nail against being involved, to the point where, with the wedding twelve days away, I had yet to see—or be fitted for—my dress. Unfortunately, my reprieve would end that day. One of my many to-dos was an appointment at the bridal shop that night.
As much as I wished I could grab Riley and hop the first plane out of town to avoid the festivities, I wouldn't. I'd recently learned the hard way how important family was. Even when they were as crazy as mine.
A slight breeze swept dust across the bleak backyard. A knot of worry twisted in my stomach. Would I be able to get this job done on time?
Just under three weeks. That's all the time I had to implement my monumental design plans. I'd called in favors, made lofty promises, and pretty much begged my usual contractors to get the help I needed to transform Maria's backyard. Luckily, I wasn't footing the huge bill for the work—that fell on the wallet of Maria's soon-to-be fatherin-law, a former Kentucky governor.
Maria had tested my design limits by wanting an enormous Japanese-themed garden. Seeing as how water was such a huge design element in a Japanese garden, digging had already been completed for the huge koi pond that sat slightly off-center in the middle of the 1.5 acre backyard. Grading, utilities, and irrigation were up next. It was going to be a crazy three weeks.
Stanley Mack, the carpentry contractor I often used for elaborate work, was busy building a half-moon bridge for the koi pond and a zigzag bridge for the dry creek bed that would be filled with small black pebbles. He was also working on a Japanese teahouse-style garden shed. He'd assemble them in his huge woodworking shop and reassemble them here closer to the completion date.
The game plan was to be done with the yard by the time Maria and Nate got back from their honeymoon in Fiji. I had twenty full days to complete the makeover, and with all that Maria wanted done, I would need every minute of it. My cell phone buzzed inside my backpack. I rooted around for it, flipped it open.
"Nina," Tam Oliver whispered, "there's a scary bunch of men here waiting for you."
Tam was my secretary, or as she liked to call herself, my executive administrative assistant. Luckily for her, she had just the right amount of haughtiness to get away with such a title. Despite being just two years older than me, she looked—and acted—more than a bit like a young Queen Elizabeth, and would be a dead ringer except for the lack of a British accent. There was no mistaking that Tam had been born and bred in the Midwest. "How scary?"
"Very. One of them keeps winking at me."
"Well, you're cute."
Her voice rose. "I'm a whale."
Tam was almost seven months pregnant and stressing over every second of it. "Whales are cute. Especially those Beluga whales. Very sweet."
Her tone took on that regal edge. "I am not amused."
I smiled. "You are too."
"Okay. Maybe a little. But what do I do about these men? I can't hide behind this water cooler forever, not that I'm doing all that good a job of hiding, seeing as how my belly's sticking out."
I wanted to laugh at the mental image, but didn't want to risk Tam quitting on me. "Ask them if they want anything to drink and please tell them I'll be there as soon as possible."
"What!?" She gasped, then her voice dropped. "Tell me these aren't the men Ana was sending over."
My cousin Ana, beyond being my best friend, was also a probation officer. Each one of my employees had come to me through her—including Tam. I was a sucker for the down-and-out, and every once in a while it paid off. "They are."
"Oh boy."
"Books and covers, Tam."
Tam tsked, sounding disgusted. "You did it again."
I groaned. Tam was on a mission to break me of sounding like my mother, who tended to abbreviated clichés and trite expressions.
"Oh, and Robert MacKenna called. Again. When are you going to call him back?"
I wasn't. "Soon," I lied.
"Liar."
Robert MacKenna was Riley's vice principal. We'd met about a month ago, and there had been instant chemistry. Of the Big Bang kind. Two problems. One, he was married. Two, I was still kinda-sorta in love with my adulterous soon-to-be-ex. Ack! I hated that about myself! Now
there
was a commandment I needed to add ASAP. Thou, Nina Colette Ceceri Quinn, need to get over thy cheating ex. Tam hung up, muttering about taking chances. She was a fine one to talk.
Out of everyone, she probably understood best what I was going through. She'd been married only two weeks when she found out she wasn't her husband's only wife. A month later, her bigamist husband was behind bars, her marriage was nullified, and her pregnancy test positive. All in all, she was coping amazingly well. But I didn't see
her
taking any chances on men. Granted, I wasn't seven months pregnant, but still. That your-heart's-been-rippedout-and-stomped-on pain tends to linger.
BOOK: Trouble In Spades
6.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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