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A Devious Lot

A Devious Lot

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A Devious Lot

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Länge:
328 Seiten
5 Stunden
Freigegeben:
Feb 25, 2016
ISBN:
9781940846767
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

Molly Appleby has promised her new husband that their honeymoon will be trouble-free—specifically, no sleuthing. Unfortunately, trouble seems to follow Molly wherever she goes, even to England.

After a glorious week in London, the newlyweds have escaped the city to visit Molly’s great-aunt in the quaint English village of Marlow Crossing. The setting is idyllic, as beautiful and serene as Molly could hope for, but as the talented reporter and senior staff writer for Collector’s Weekly knows, appearances can be deceiving. And when a local woman turns up poisoned to death, Molly’s convinced there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

Putting her honeymoon on hold, Molly agrees to help local inspector Devon Boyle with the case, especially since the sleepy village presents such a small number of suspects. But when two of them go missing and the tragic death of another woman comes to light, Molly realizes she’s up against a much more sinister criminal than she thought. Untangling a web of lies and deceit as she searches for a motive and a murderer won’t be easy, but Molly’s determined to put all of her detective skills to use to catch a killer before her trip, and her life, are brought to a sudden end.

About the Authors:

New York Times bestselling author Ellery Adams grew up on a beach near the Long Island Sound. Having spent her adult life in a series of landlocked towns, she cherishes her memories of open water, violent storms, and the smell of the sea. Ms. Adams has held many jobs, including that of caterer, retail clerk, car salesperson, teacher, tutor, and tech writer, all the while penning poems, children's books, and novels. She now writes full-time from her home in Virginia.

Parker Riggs is the author of the mystery novels A Treacherous Trader, A Devious Lot, A Killer Keepsake (all with Ellery Adams), and Finding Jessica. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband.

Freigegeben:
Feb 25, 2016
ISBN:
9781940846767
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Ellery Adams has written over thirty mystery novels and can’t imagine spending a day away from the keyboard. Ms. Adams, a native New Yorker, has had a lifelong love affair with stories, food, rescue animals, and large bodies of water. When not working on her next novel, she reads, bakes, gardens, spoils her three cats, and rearranges her bookshelves. She lives with her husband and two children (aka the Trolls) in Chapel Hill, NC. For more information, please visit www.elleryadamsmysteries.com.


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A Devious Lot - Ellery Adams

indeed.

Chapter 1

Molly Appleby opened her eyes to the sound of her husband snoring. She was in a strange bed, and it took her a moment to remember they weren’t at the Cavendish in London anymore, but at her great-aunt’s country cottage in the Cotswolds. Propping herself up on her elbow, she looked down at Matt and resisted the urge to run her hand through his sandy-blond hair. It felt cold in the room, and getting out of bed, she fixed the quilt to cover him. Shivering in her flimsy cotton nightgown, she tiptoed across the wide-planked wood floor to her suitcase and quickly dressed in gray flannel sweatpants and a red sweatshirt with Fletcher Allen Hospital stenciled in white across the front.

Taking a moment to brush her hair, Molly studied her reflection in the mirror. For some reason, since she’d said I do ten days ago, she felt different. Nothing had changed on the outside, but in her heart and mind she felt more settled, and content in a way she never had before. It was an odd sensation, and she wondered if it would last. As a woman who valued her independence, she worried she might lose herself too much to Matt, becoming his shadow rather than his partner. When she’d mentioned this to her mother on the eve of the wedding, Clara had reminded her of all the times Matt had stood by her, and never left her out of the decision-making. He’d proven over and over again that he trusted her judgment and valued her opinion. If she wanted an equal partnership, Clara said, she might want to work on her own lack of patience and her willfulness. Molly could have been offended, but she knew her mother was right. She had a tendency to be pushy and was headstrong, and Matt was a saint for putting up with her bossiness. Clara had ended by saying, Commitment to a relationship is a two-way street, and sometimes you have to be willing to let go and let the other person do the driving. Just remember: If you get lost, don’t be afraid to ask for directions.

Molly smiled as she slipped her bare feet into her favorite fuzzy slippers. She was going to take her mother’s advice and work hard to make her marriage a success, even if she had to compromise once in a while. Going out to the hallway, she closed the door softly behind her. She loved Foxcoat Cottage, but it was over a hundred years old and had low sloping ceilings. Feeling like Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, she bent her neck and shoulders to keep from smacking her head on the rafters.

The stairs were even more precarious. Narrowly built for people who were much smaller, they had to be taken slowly and one at a time. To do otherwise was to risk a serious fall. Molly breathed a sigh of relief when she got to the bottom. She was in the main hall, which separated two front rooms—a small sitting room with overstuffed sofas, antique tables and oriental rugs, and a thirty-inch flat-screen TV; and the former dining room, now her aunt’s bedroom. At the end of the hallway was the kitchen, the biggest and most modern room in the house. She found Tessa there, standing in front of her massive three-oven Aga cooker, a spatula in one hand, an unopened package of sausage in the other.

Good morning, Molly said.

Tessa turned and smiled widely. Good morning, Molly. Her great-aunt was a spritely eighty-two years old, with silver hair she wore short and spikey, and the same slate-gray eyes as Molly. It was the only family resemblance. Like all Appleby women (with the exception of Molly), Tessa had inherited the style gene. Although the sun was barely up, she was dressed in cream-colored slacks, a white sweater set, and a colorful scarf tied jauntily around her neck. Molly felt like a slob just looking at her. Did you sleep well? Tessa asked.

Like a baby, Molly said. She hugged her aunt, careful not to squeeze her too hard. Molly was five-foot-eight, full-figured and big-boned; Tessa was five inches shorter and thin as a twig. How’s your hip this morning?

A little achy, but feeling better than it was when you arrived last night, Tessa said. I have to be more diligent about doing my exercises. She was an avid golfer, and during a summer game of golf, a friend she was playing with had run into her with their golf cart, knocking her to the ground and breaking her hip.

Are you still friends with the woman who ran you over? Molly asked.

Of course. Brenda didn’t do it on purpose, Tessa said. Although I must admit, I was bloody angry with her at the time. Her eyes twinkled. I was playing such a good game of golf.

Molly laughed. I’m glad she didn’t hurt your sense of humor.

No chance of that, Tessa said. Living in the U.K. so long, I’ve developed a dry sense of humor. Tessa had married Jack Paulson, her late husband, when she was twenty-five years old. They’d met at a teachers’ retreat in Scotland, married six months later, and settled permanently in Marlow Crossing. I’m more upset about missing your wedding, she said. If I could have endured that long plane ride, I would have been there. You know that, right?

Of course I do, Molly said. You were missed.

Tessa drizzled oil into a heavy cast iron pan and opened the packet of sausages. Your mother emailed some pictures to me that she took on her phone. She looked at Molly. You looked beautiful and radiant. I’m amazed at how it all came together—the dress, the diamond tiara, and the people you met and the connections. Solving two murders! What an amazing story.

It was truly magical, Molly said.

Indeed it was. Just as it should be when you marry.

I’ll send more photos and a copy of the video as soon as I get them from the photographer.

I look forward to getting them, Tessa said. Why don’t you have some coffee? She laid the sausage in the pan and the meat sizzled and spit. I’m making sausages and scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Molly went to the counter and stared at the coffee machine. When did you get this?

Do you like it? I thought I’d treat myself after my old one finally gave up the ghost a few months ago. It makes espresso and regular coffee.

Does it clean the dishes and sweep the floors, too?

Tessa laughed. I wish it did, she said.

It looks like something my friend Jazzy has at her coffee shop.

Tessa stirred the sausage with the spatula. What an unusual name, she said.

Her real name is Joyce Chen, but everyone calls her Jazzy because she loves jazz music, Molly said. How do I make coffee with this thing?

Just put a cup under the spout and press the button, Tessa said.

Molly put a mug under one of two spouts. There were so many buttons, she couldn’t figure out which ones to press. Finally, she threw up her hands. I give up. Help!

Tessa showed her how to work the machine, pushing the right buttons, and as Molly watched, hot steaming coffee poured into her mug. She felt embarrassed. Her octogenarian great-aunt was more techno-savvy than she was.

Can I help you with anything? Molly asked.

You can make toast, and there’s marmalade and strawberry jam in the fridge, Tessa said. Then sit down and relax. Let me spoil you while you’re here. Is Matt coming down?

He was still asleep, but I know the minute his brain smells sausage cooking, he’ll miraculously appear.

Molly made the toast and set the table. The kitchen was her favorite room in the cottage. Tessa had updated it with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, but kept the original hardwood floors and old farmhouse table in the bay window. She sat at the table and looked out at the garden. The early morning sun was still low in the sky, the flower beds dormant and empty except for some mums. A light breeze stirred fallen leaves across the brick patio.

It’s not Vermont in the fall, Tessa said, but I do love it all the same.

It’s very beautiful here, Molly said. But when you can fly again, you should come and visit us. Mom would love to see you.

That would be lovely, Tessa said. Is Matt enjoying his new career as a doctor?

He’s enjoying it, Molly said and sipped her coffee. French vanilla, her favorite. Right now, he’s a resident in family practice at Fletcher Allen Hospital, and he’ll be rotating through every department over the next two to three years. Then he’ll have to decide where he goes from there.

And how are you enjoying life in Vermont? Do you miss North Carolina?

Molly stretched her long legs out. I love Vermont, but I haven’t been through a winter yet, so maybe I should wait and see how I feel in the spring. I don’t miss North Carolina as much as I thought I would. We’re having a lot of fun exploring New England, and Kitty and Lex came for a long visit over the summer. Plus, I get to work from home, which is awesome, and I’m in daily contact with my coworkers in Durham. Sometimes it feels like I never left, only the view outside my window has changed.

Clara told me she enjoys living under the same roof with you and Matt. It was good of you to invite her to live with you.

She’s not exactly living with us, Molly said. The house belongs to Sean, her boyfriend. She rents the in-law apartment, and we rent the main house. We love having her close, seeing her every day. We appreciate her uprooting her life for us.

I’m very glad it’s all worked out, Tessa said. How did you like London?

Loved it! Thank you so much for suggesting we stay at the Cavendish. It’s modern and beautiful, and we could walk to the underground and go to restaurants and shows with no trouble at all. I especially loved the breakfast buffet in the morning.

I knew you’d like it, Tessa said, looking pleased. Jack and I always stayed there when we visited London.

I’m sorry I haven’t been back to see you since the funeral, Molly said. I miss talking to him on the phone, and the funny emails he used to send me.

I miss him, too, Tessa said.

Above their heads, they heard the floorboards squeak.

Matt’s up, Molly said.

Tessa stirred the sausages, which were browning nicely and smelled delicious. Your mother told me Sean owns an antique store, and worked in the oil industry before he moved to Vermont. He sounds different from the men she usually dates.

That’s no joke, Molly said and laughed. Sean’s a gentle giant. He wears flannel shirts, has a beard, and rides a Harley.

Tessa’s eyebrows shot up. I’m not sure which astounds me more. Facial hair, flannel shirts, or the Harley.

Mom loves the bike.

Tessa looked at her suspiciously. Are you teasing me?

No, it’s true. I’ve got pictures on my phone to prove it. I’ll show you later. Mom even bought a new outfit to go riding with him. A black leather jacket with matching pants and boots, and a black helmet with pink stars.

Now I believe you, Tessa laughed. She pushed the sausages around some more. Is the relationship serious?

Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the next wedding invitation you get is from her.

I’m happy to hear it, Tessa said. Your mother’s been alone far too long. She glanced out the window. Molly, be a dear, would you, and let the cat in?

Sure, Molly said, getting up. When did you get a cat?

She’s not mine. Gingersnap belongs to my neighbor, Tiffany.

Molly opened the door and a petite red cat with a white patch on her chest and enormous green eyes sauntered into the kitchen. Well, hello there, Molly said. She bent down and scratched behind her ears and was awarded with a low rumbling purr. What a cutie-pie.

Gingersnap’s very sweet. She visits every day. Tessa spooned the sausages onto a plate lined with paper towels. Tiffany rents White Dove Cottage. It’s the little one down the street with the bright white door.

There were a grand total of eight homes on Stony Creek Run, and they were spread out over six miles of ragged stone walls and thickly wooded forest. White Dove Cottage was the only one visible from Tessa’s cottage.

Do you know Tiffany well, or just her cat? Molly asked.

Tiffany was in the class I taught before I retired, Tessa said. She’s a young girl of thirty. Molly tried not to smile. Any woman under sixty was a young girl to her aunt. She studied hair design in London and became a top hairstylist. She lived there until recently.

Why did she leave?

Her boyfriend, Giles, moved back home when his father was on his deathbed. After the funeral, he told Tiffany he’d met someone else and was breaking up with her. She’s trying to win him back.

Molly sipped her coffee. How’s that working for her?

You’ve heard the expression ‘when hell freezes over.’ This is worse. Tessa went to the refrigerator and took out a carton of eggs. Giles, by the way, is the son of my friend Brenda.

The golf cart maniac?

Tessa nodded. He and Tiffany dated from the time they were sixteen.

Well, that explains why she’s having a hard time letting go. Fourteen years is a long time to date someone.

I agree, Matt said from the doorway. Poor Tiffany, whoever she may be. He was leaning on the doorjamb, his hair combed, dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved blue chambray shirt. He looked so handsome, Molly felt her breath catch in her throat. Sorry, I was eavesdropping, he said.

Don’t be sorry, come here, Molly said.

He leaned down to kiss her. Molly was tall, but she only reached the top of his wide shoulders. He went over to Tessa and gave her a warm hug. Thanks for having us to stay, he said. The little I’ve seen so far of the Cotswolds is absolutely breathtaking.

I’m happy you’re here, Tessa said. Have a coffee and sit down. Breakfast is almost ready.

Smells delicious, he said.

Matt went to the coffee machine, and Molly watched him place a mug under a spout, push all the right buttons, and make himself a fresh-brewed cup of coffee as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Was she the only person who couldn’t operate Tessa’s coffee machine?

Molly turned to Tessa. So who’s the new girl Giles fell in love with?

Her name is Penelope Cassidy, Tessa said. She cracked eggs into a bowl, seasoned them with salt and pepper and a splash of milk and whisked them with a fork. Brenda hired her to work at her antique shop, Bits & Pieces. Giles met her last spring when he came home, and they fell madly in love. They announced their engagement last night at a big shindig at Channing Hall.

Molly was appalled. Giles asked a woman he met only months ago to marry him, but in all the time he was with Tiffany he never proposed?

I’m afraid so, Tessa said. She poured the eggs into the pan and gently pulled them apart as they cooked. When they were nearly done, she turned the burner off, removed the pan from the stove top, and finished scrambling the eggs. I wish Tiffany would be sensible and go back to London. It does seem pointless, her staying here, now that they’re engaged.

She spooned the eggs onto a platter with the sausage. Matt took it from her and put it on the table. Gingersnap curled up on the rug by the door.

Who’s the kitty? he asked.

Her name is Gingersnap, Molly said. She belongs to Tiffany. And before you say a word, you don’t have to remind me a cat never really belongs to anyone. She turned to Tessa. Is Channing Hall open to the public these days? Because if I remember correctly, only the garden was open for tours.

No, Brenda still won’t allow anyone in the house, just the garden, Tessa said.

Matt looked confused. What’s Channing Hall?

An old English country manor house, Molly said. I’d love to get a look inside.

Tessa smiled. Well, it so happens, you’re in luck, she said. Brenda’s invited us all to tea at four o’clock this afternoon. Before we go, I thought we might do some shopping in the village. I’d love to introduce you to some of my neighbors, and we could go on a scenic drive afterward and have lunch somewhere. We’d be back in plenty of time for tea. What do you think?

Sounds good to me, Molly said, and Matt agreed.

When they’d finished breakfast, Molly and Matt insisted Tessa enjoy her coffee while they cleaned up. As Molly rinsed off the dishes and Matt put them in the dishwasher, there was a knock at the back door. The sound startled Gingersnap, who leapt to her feet.

Tessa said, I expect that will be Reggie, my gardener.

Stay where you are. I’ll get it, Matt said.

He opened the door, and Gingersnap shot past the man in the doorway. He jumped back, and Molly heard him mutter under his breath, Darn cat.

Good morning, Reggie, Tessa said.

Reggie was in his mid-fifties with a stocky build and a hard ruddy face. His faded brown anorak looked well-worn, and his jeans were stuffed into muddy boots.

Good morning, ma’am, he said.

Tessa made the introductions and Matt offered his hand. Molly remained at the sink but gave him a little wave with a soapy hand. Nice to meet you, she said.

Reggie nodded silently and turned back to Tessa. I need to borrow some tools from the shed, he said. Brenda wants me to plant some flowers she got from Mrs. Reedy. You know how she is. Her Royal Highness wants it done today.

A smile tugged at the corners of Tessa’s mouth. Now, now, Reggie, be kind. By all means, plant her flowers. We want her to tell everyone what a wonderful gardener you are. Don’t give her a reason not to be generous with her praise.

Reggie frowned. You don’t need to remind me I’m beholden to her.

Oh, no! I didn’t mean to imply you’re beholden to her, Tessa said quickly, but Reggie scowled and didn’t look convinced. Would you like a coffee? she asked.

No, thank you, he said.

What about breakfast? she persisted. I can make a plate for you.

No time, but thanks all the same. I just wanted to let you know about the tools and where I’d be going, he said. He nodded to Matt and Molly and closed the door behind him.

Well, he’s no chatterbox, Molly said.

Tessa sighed. Reggie’s a bit rough around the edges.

Sounds like he’s not a big fan of Brenda’s, Molly said.

I don’t know why, but he’s developed a bad attitude about her, Tessa said. She has a legion of gardeners at her beck and call, an entire lawn company out of Keensburg, but she’s been good to him, hiring him for small jobs. A good word from her in the village would help his business tremendously.

Why does he need her help, and why is he borrowing your tools?

He’s had a tough go of it, Tessa said.

Why? Molly asked.

Tessa hesitated, but finally said, Because he’s served time in prison. Molly exchanged a worried look with Matt. I can see the way you’re looking at each other, Tessa said. He paid a price to society for what he did. You shouldn’t judge.

Matt said, May we ask why he went to prison?

It was an accident, Tessa said. He murdered a man. Molly felt her jaw drop. Matt looked shocked. It was a pub brawl, she went on. Reggie didn’t even know the man. There was a soccer match on the TV and a fight broke out over the outcome of the game. The other man pulled a knife and Reggie fought back. Somehow during the struggle, he managed to get hold of his knife and accidentally stabbed him.

How long was he in prison? Matt asked.

Fifteen years, Tessa said.

Molly whistled low. Whoever sentenced him obviously didn’t think it was an accident, she said. Did you know him before the murder?

Tessa shook her head. Reggie’s originally from Liverpool, but he didn’t want to go there when he got out. He started his own business at the urging of our vicar, Reverend Jenkins. I decided to give him a second chance. The truth is, I needed the help. After Jack died, I tried to do the gardening myself, but it’s no good, I haven’t the knack for it. Jack used to say I could kill a cactus.

Molly said, Despite the fact that your garden is beautiful, I’m not wild about an ex-convict working for you.

I understand your concern, but it’s unwarranted, Tessa said. I wouldn’t have hired Reggie if I didn’t believe he was truly reformed.

Molly glanced at Matt. He was frowning, and she could see it in his eyes, he didn’t trust Reggie. Neither did she.

Chapter 2

The road to Channing Hall was once a carriage road, surrounded for centuries by tall oaks on either side. The house was situated on ten acres, with meadows and rolling hills and a forest at the edge of the property. Molly glimpsed it through the trees, and as Matt turned the rental car onto the long circular drive, she felt her excitement grow.

Channing Hall loomed in front of them, a magnificent and perfectly proportioned mansion of weathered brick with a high slate roof, four chimneys, and dozens of gleaming windows. Matt parked the car behind a shiny new silver Jaguar. No one got out, but for a long moment stared at the house. Finally, he said, I have to admit, Channing Hall is impressive. He turned around in his seat to face Tessa in the back. What do you know about its history?

Tessa said, I know it was built by the first Earl of Rangely in 1761, and that he was a gentleman farmer. Over the years, the estate employed many villagers, and remained in the family until the last Earl of Rangely had to give it up twenty-five years ago. The taxes and maintenance became too much to handle, and his children weren’t interested in taking it on. It was a shame. They were nice people.

How did Donnie and Brenda manage to afford it?

Donnie made his fortune with a string of car dealerships across the U.K., Tessa said. I’m afraid I don’t know much more about the history of the estate. I believe it’s been a peaceful house, with little intrigue or drama. Shall we go in?

Matt helped Tessa from the car, hovering over her as she made her way with her cane to the ten-foot-high front door. Before Molly could press the bell, it was opened by a plump, dour woman wearing a crisp black skirt and a frilly white blouse. Tessa smiled and said, Good afternoon, Mrs. Jackson. How are you today?

Mrs. Jackson said stiffly, Very well, thank you, madam. Please come in.

Feeling like a child about to open her Christmas presents, Molly stepped into the foyer. The interior immediately lived up to all of her expectations. The ceilings were low in the entryway, giving the house a cozy, intimate feel, despite its enormity. The walls, floors, and ceiling were made of maple and rosewood, and as they followed Mrs. Jackson down a long hallway, Molly noted the elaborate scrollwork on the grand staircase and the ornately carved crown moldings. Even the window frames and massive doors were decorative. Channing Hall was a creative work of art.

Mrs. Jackson escorted them to the drawing room, and in contrast to the dark hallway, it was bright and cheery. A middle-aged woman with sharp cheekbones and a long straight nose strode toward them.

Thank you, Mrs. Jackson, she said. You may bring the tea. Mrs. Jackson nodded and left. The woman turned to Tessa. So good of you to come.

Tessa introduced Molly and Matt to Brenda Adair. She appeared to be an elegant woman in a blue silk

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