Thursday, June 12, 2014

Today's FREE READ-the first TWO chapters of THE FEED STORE FLOOZY--Book 3



CHAPTER ONE

“Sam, you’ve got to stop sneaking up on me like this!” Penelope Pembroke squirmed in her unexpected visitor’s arms until she could see his face.
He nuzzled her neck and pulled her down in his lap on the stairs. “Why?”
“Because it’s totally disconcerting.”
“Disconcerting? There’s a mouthful.”
“I never know when or where you’re going to show up. On the veranda, in the kitchen, at the top of the stairs. Ever since you stole that key…”
“I don’t need a key to get in.”
“That’s breaking and entering.” She relaxed against him and rested her head against his shoulder.
He sighed. “If only I could get into your heart.”
“That’s the problem, isn’t it? You already have, but I don’t want it broken. Not again.”
“I don’t think Travis broke your heart.”
“I guess he didn’t. But you could.”
“That’s promising.”
“Sam, I’m serious. Why can’t you give me a little warning before you show up?”
“I just can’t, that’s all.”
“How long will you be here this time?”
“A few days.”
“Please tell me it’s not an official visit. Amaryllis doesn’t need any more drug smugglers or art thieves.” She took a deep breath. “Or murders.”
“I’m just cooling my heels.”
“Between investigations.”
He shrugged.
“I know. You can’t tell me.”
He kissed her again. “You can tell me what’s going on here.”
“It’s August, so the Dog Days of Summer is coming up in two weeks.”
“Another one of Mayor Hargrove’s bright ideas.”
Penelope sat up straight. “Don’t knock him, Sam. When Tobin Textiles moved out, Amaryllis would’ve folded up and died if Harry hadn’t come up with all his ideas.”
“I know the story. So--Crystal Rainbow Convention, Cupid Convention, Tulip Turnaround, Dog Days of Summer, the Fall Festival, Christmas Carousel Tour.” He smiled. “Did I miss one?”
“No, except he’s thinking of adding Founder’s Day once the renovations at the old school are finished.”
“How are those coming along? You said Harry seemed to think the publicity about everything that happened out there would put the nail in the coffin so to speak.”
“Don’t talk about coffins, please.”
“Sorry.”
“The whole town has rallied behind the idea of a community center. Nobody has much money to spare, but they’ve donated time to refinish floors and the seats in the auditorium, paint, and make Roman shades for the windows and a new curtain for the stage. An electrician out of Little Rock, a friend of Peter Taliaferro’s, volunteered to rewire the place and install smoke alarms and a sprinkler system.”
“That’s not cheap.”
“Apparently the electrician has friends who were willing to donate materials.”
“I’m impressed.”
“You should be. It’s going to be a real community center because the whole town is involved.”
“When do you think it’ll open?”
“Mary Lynn hopes by Christmas, but we’re not going to rush things.”
“How is Tabby Taliaferro?”
“Shana says she never mentions Jessie Ruth these days.”
“That’s just as well.”
“Shana and Peter are doing well, too.”
“The ex-in-laws still making trouble?”
“Now and then. Peter still doesn’t trust them, but he lets them see Tabby if he’s with her.”
“I’ve done some checking on them.”
“Why?”
“Just curious, that’s all.”
“And?”
Sam winked. “You don’t need to know.”
“I hate it when you say that!”
“Peter knows, and he’s the one who should.”
“Shana said Peter told her they made his wife’s childhood and adolescence miserable because they were so controlling. He’s not about to let them get their hands on Tabby.”
“He shouldn’t.” Sam stood up, pulling Penelope with him. “Where’s Jake?”
She glanced at her watch. “Having coffee with the Toney Twins at the Daisy Café.”
“Is my room ready?”
Penelope pursed her lips. “In the first place, it’s not your room, and in the second…”
Sam cut her off with another kiss. “I’ll get my bag out of the car—which is in your garage, by the way.”
“I don’t know how you can stand living like this—sneaking around, hiding, never sleeping in the same place longer than a few nights.” She put her hands flat against the broad shoulders which always made her stomach tighten. “I couldn’t do that.”
His eyes seemed to darken. “That’s just the way it is, Nell. For now anyway.”



CHAPTER TWO

Penelope closed the oven and turned around as her father Jake Kelley entered the kitchen and hung his truck keys on the rack by the door. “Pot roast tonight, Daddy.”
“I can smell it. And from the fact the garage is closed, I’m guessing Sam’s here.”
“The Gray Ghost materialized right after you left this morning.”
Jake chuckled. “I always enjoy his visits. Where is he?”
“Upstairs taking a nap. He says he’s unofficial this time.”
“I hope so. We’ve had enough excitement around here for a while, don’t you think?”
“Enough to last a lifetime, if you ask me.”
Jake took a can of soda from the refrigerator, pulled the tab, and leaned against the sink. “Bunch of cars out at the old school today.”
“That electrician from Little Rock told Mary Lynn he’d finish up this week, and some ladies are hemming the new stage curtain.”
“I’ll miss the old one. Sure was pretty.”
“I know, Daddy, but it fell apart when we took it down. We tried to match it as well as we could.”
“Yeah, that’s what happens when you get old—you fall apart.”
“Not you, Daddy.”
“Well, maybe not yet anyway. Don’t want another one of those strokes.”
“Take your pills and do what Dr. Linton says.”
“Sure, sure, I know.” Jake reached out to pinch his daughter’s cheek. “You always look brighter and younger when Sam comes around.”
“Oh, Daddy, I do not.”
“Yes, you do, Nellie. You bloom like a morning glory.”
“Stop it, Daddy.”
Jake laughed. “I’m going to watch my programs. You inviting Brad and Rosie for dinner?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Sam’s no stranger to Brad. You know that. The Amaryllis PD chief of detectives doesn’t miss a thing that goes on in this town. Or in his mother’s house either.”
“I think Bradley has to pretend he doesn’t really know about Sam.”
“You think?”
“I don’t know what I think, Daddy. I’ve thought about asking Rosabel, but I don’t want her to think I’m nosy.”
“She wouldn’t think that.”
“She said I was going to be a terrible mother-in-law because I’d spoil my grandchildren the way I try to spoil her.”
“You think they’ll really wait until Christmas to get married?”
“They’re working on that house, but they don’t have a lot of spare time.”
“They made a good choice. It’s a nice little house. I like it.”
“Yes, well, Christmas is soon enough. Her parents haven’t even made it down here yet. Her daddy can’t leave his saddle shop right now.”
“I’m sure they’re nice folks just like our Rosie.”
“I’m sure.”
“Gonna go watch my programs now.”
“You said that while ago.”
“I’m going now. Call me when Sam gets stirring.”
****
Penelope stood in the hall listening, but no sound came from Sam’s room. He looked tired. I wonder what he’s been involved in. I wish he’d just give it up and— And what, Penelope Corinne Louise? Settle down in Amaryllis? Marry you? She shook her head and started for the stairs to the third floor, once the attic, now a loft suite for her B&B.
She checked the small refrigerator and noted on her clipboard it was down one bottle of water and two cans of soda. From the cabinet under the microwave, she took the needed items, placed them in the refrigerator, and closed the door with the toe of her sandal.  In the bathroom closet, she counted three extra rolls of toilet paper and a stack of half-a-dozen hand towels on the shelf. She took out a new bar of soap and placed it still wrapped in the shell-shaped dish on the sink.
The linens were fresh, the throw rugs vacuumed, the blinds dusted and anchored six inches from the sill, just enough to let the sun spill over the polished hardwood floors and furniture. Everything done. The family coming in ten days to occupy the cozy rooms would find a clean, warm welcome.
The second floor, still silent, told her Sam hadn’t gotten up yet from his nap. Oh, Sam, I’m so glad you’re back. I miss you so much when you’re not here. Too much. You come and go like the wind, and I never know from one day to the next when you’ll show up. Sometimes I wonder what I’d do if you never came back at all.
In the kitchen, she hung the clipboard on a hook inside the pantry and picked up a container of oatmeal and a bag of walnuts. Apple crisp for dessert. Daddy likes it. I wonder if Sam does. He never says anything about his personal likes or dislikes. Except me. He likes me. He likes me too much. If I’d give in, he’d have me in bed in half a second. I can’t do it though.  I made one mistake with Travis, and I won’t make another one with Sam.
As she stood at the sink peeling apples, the muffled sound of Jake’s television filled the otherwise silent kitchen. Penelope reflected, not for the first time, how he was happy as a pig in a peach orchard in his cozy apartment, once the servants’ quarters when the house was new only ten years after Jeremiah Bowden came from Mississippi to found Amaryllis, Arkansas. During their forty-year marriage, Jake and her mother occupied the front chamber where Sam slept now. Wynne died in the room after a long struggle with cancer. Penelope, by then a registered nurse, used her mother’s illness as an excuse to leave Travis’s ancestral home at Pembroke Point and move home with twelve-year-old Bradley.
Years later, Penelope left her job in the emergency room of a Little Rock hospital to see Jake through his rehab from a moderate stroke. Then Tobin Textiles pulled out, and the town went into survival mode. Penelope suggested turning the well-kept Victorian home into a bed-and-breakfast, and Jake took up residence in the redecorated apartment off the kitchen. Now he spent his mornings having coffee with the Toney Twins or cruising the shopping centers on Interstate 30, and his afternoons watching reruns on television. It was, he said, ‘the good life’.
Penelope added oatmeal and brown sugar to the softened butter and used a fork to make a crumbly mixture. She’d just sprinkled it over the sliced apples and added a generous cup of chopped walnuts, when her best friend Mary Lynn Hargrove wife of long-time mayor Harry, burst in.
“You’ll never guess what happened!” Dispossessing Abijah, the large orange tabby who didn’t like anybody except Penelope, from a chair, she flopped down and returned the cat’s glare.
“Don’t tell me the blessed ghost of Jeremiah Bowden turned up again in the boiler room at the school.”
Mary Lynn tossed her zebra-print purse in a chair and sank down at the table. “Worse than that. You know that empty building on the square?”
“Too many of buildings on the square are still empty.”
“I’m talking about the one on the corner of Park and Main, across from the library.”
“That’s not on the square.”
“Close enough.”
“What about it?”
“It used to be a feed store, and Brice Dolan got it at the tax auction last month.”
“I knew that, but I didn’t know what he wanted it for.”
“Nobody did, but it seems he finally got around to checking out the inside this morning, and when he went upstairs…”  Mary Lynn sat up and took a deep breath. “When he went upstairs, he discovered somebody used it as a…” She slumped over again and put her forehead against the table.
“For blessed what, Mary Lynn? I swear, you’re such a drama queen.”
“A brothel,” came the mumbled reply. “A house of ill repute.”
“A bawdy house? Here in Amaryllis?”
Mary Lynn moaned. “And what’s worse—and don’t you dare tell anybody—Harry’s mother’s grandfather owned that building before it was a feed store. He had to know what was going on upstairs!”

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