Thirty-Six and a Half Motives Page 48

“Leave it to Rose Gardner to go stirrin’ up trouble,” Miss Mildred grumbled.

“Something we actually agree on,” Hilary murmured.

“Hey, he needed to talk to Neely Kate,” I said as Jonah hurried past me. “I’m just following my friend around.”

The glare on Miss Mildred’s face assured me she wasn’t buying it.

I was only going to make things worse if I stayed, so I followed Neely Kate and Jonah twenty feet down the hall into the kitchen.

“I really could use a little something extra in this today,” he said as he poured himself a cup of coffee. He took a sip, and his gaze wandered between the two of us. “Do you either of you have anything on you?”

“Like a flask?” I asked in disbelief.

Neely Kate reached into her purse, pulled out a mini bottle of Jack Daniels, and then handed it to him. “Here you go.”

My mouth dropped open as if it were on a hinge.

“Before you judge”—Jonah said, dumping the entire contents of the bottle into his coffee before burying the bottle under a stack of paper towels in the trash— “you spend an hour with the two of them. You’d either need a shot of whiskey or a Xanax.”

He had a point.

Neely Kate set the cupcake box on the counter and opened the lid. “Maybe this will help.”

“You’re just full of wonders today,” Jonah said, reaching for a chocolate cupcake. “I love Dena’s cupcakes.”

“Who doesn’t?” she asked.

Let’s hope they’ll work as well on Hilary.

“So what are you two doin’ here?” he asked, then turned to me. “I thought you’d be hiding, with J.R. Simmons on the loose.”

“Well, we could use a favor . . .” Neely Kate said.

His gaze shifted between the two of us. “I would think you’d need more than a favor with J.R. Simmons running loose. You need divine intervention.” He swung his attention to me. “I can’t believe Joe’s just lettin’ you walk around.”

I pushed out a sigh. “He’s not too happy, but I’m tired of sitting around, waiting for the officials to take care of business. So I’m”—I glanced at Neely Kate— “we’re trying to find out more information to bring him down for good.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” he asked, worry wrinkling his brow. “He’s capable of anything, and you two . . .”

“Are protected,” I said quietly.

His eyes rounded with understanding. “Skeeter.”

When I didn’t respond, he asked, “And Mason. . . ?”

Since that was a complicated answer, I gave the simplest one I had. “Mason isn’t an issue at the moment.”

His gaze softened. “Rose, I’m sorry.”

I shook my head vigorously, trying to settle my grief back into place. While Mason said he wanted to work things out, I knew it wouldn’t be that easy. But now was not the time to think about our relationship.

“It’s for the best this way.” I rolled my shoulders. I needed to focus. I could fall apart later. “We’re here because we need to talk to Hilary.”

“Ask and you shall receive,” a voice said from behind me.

I spun around to stare into the annoyed face of Hilary herself.

 

 

Chapter 18

 

 

How long had Hilary been standing there? I went back over our conversation, looking for what she could have overheard.

But Neely Kate didn’t look fazed in the least. “Hilary, you’re gonna spoil our surprise. We brought you a peace offering, and we were just beggin’ Jonah to let us steal you for a few minutes so we could give it to you.”

She remained expressionless. “Well, isn’t that quite the surprise.”

Neely Kate picked up the small box and held it out to her. “We got you Dena’s cupcakes. We asked her for your favorite flavor.”

“Why would you do that?” she asked in a guarded tone, her hand resting on her small belly as if she were protecting her baby from us.

“Because you and I are more alike than you seem to think,” Neely Kate said. “And you’re alone in this town. We haven’t treated you very well, and I’d like to make it up to you.”

She cast a wary glance at us.

“She’s right,” I said, meaning every word. “We’ve all said some ugly things to one another, but I’d really like to put that behind us. If you’re stayin’ in Henryetta, we should all try to get along, if only for the poor baby’s sake. You don’t want all this animosity around him or her.”

“Havin’ a baby should be a joyous occasion,” Neely Kate said quietly. “It’s bad enough the way Joe is treatin’ you. You don’t need any more ugliness in your life.”

To my surprise, Hilary’s eyes filled with tears.

“How can I trust you?” she asked.

I took a step forward. “I mean every word.” I glanced back at Jonah and nodded to assure him I did. “I hate bein’ enemies with you. Maybe we can’t be friends, but all of this turmoil with Violet and my birthmother has made me realize the importance of family. Your baby needs Joe—and you do, too. Maybe we can help you make things right with him.”

“I still don’t understand why you would help me after everything you’ve said and done.” She sounded wary and I didn’t blame her. I’d certainly be suspicious if I were in her shoes.

Truth be told, she’d always been the instigator, but pointing that out now wouldn’t help with our quest.

“Why can’t we let bygones be bygones?” Neely Kate asked, holding her hands out at her sides.

“Even after you went around town telling everyone that I’m eighty-five years old, and only keep my youth by drinking the blood of baby raccoons?”

Neely Kate grimaced. “Well . . .”

“Or that I dance in the woods—”

Neely Kate shrugged. “There’s not a doggone thing wrong with dancing.”

“In Dark Hollow Grove. Naked and under a full moon?”

Neely Kate pointed her finger at Hilary. “I never said Dark Hollow Grove. People tend to make things up as the story goes along.” Then a guilty look spread across her face. “So I might have said a few things I regret . . . but maybe you have, too.”

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