A Seed of Doubt
Kerri Gale is enjoying living in the quiet town of Cascade Grove with her Yorkshire Terrier, Cashew, and her grandfather, George. It is finally grand opening day for ‘Nuts about Nuts’ and Kerri is very excited.
But when a body is dug up across from the shop the doors are closed before they officially open. When it turns out that the victim is a local that no one even knew was missing the small town is in shock.
Kerri’s curiosity gets the better of her and with the help of her grandfather and a local, handsome reporter, Steve, she tries to find out who the murderer is. Her investigations unravel some seedy characters which lands Kerri straight in the line of fire.
Why is Kerri’s grandfather being so secretive? Does he know more about the murder than he is revealing? Will Kerri solve the murder mystery before there is a second murder?
Recipes included: Nut Bars and Banana Nut Muffins!
This is book 2 in the Nuts about Nuts Cozy Mystery Series. The main mystery is solved in each book, but the series is best enjoyed when read in order.
Release date: March 8, 2017
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Print pages: 236
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A Seed of Doubt
“Now where is he going?” Laughter filled the fresh mountain air as Kerri scattered a few nuts across the lush soil. It was the first chance this week Kerri had to check on her squirrel friend and even though she wanted to have a chance to talk with him, he kept darting in all different directions. Every time she tossed a nut in his direction, he ran from it, only to launch himself towards it the moment her back was turned. “Oh, you’re playful today, hmm?” She grinned down at Cashew, her Yorkshire Terrier, who rested her head lazily on her folded paws. For once she wasn’t the least bit concerned about playing with the squirrel. She’d already been for a run and was worn out. Kerri was a little worn out herself. She’d been buried in paperwork, supplies, and last minute details, as the grand opening of her shop, ‘Nuts about Nuts’, was set for the very next day. Both excitement and fear rushed through her.
This was what she’d worked so hard for, but a part of her was afraid it would be a letdown. What if she really wasn’t the settling type?
One of the main reasons Kerri had been able to supply her shop with such a large variety of gifts, nuts, and treats, was because of her frequent and worldwide travel. She traveled with her parents when she was young, and from the time she turned eighteen, until a few months before, she was rarely in the same country for more than a month. Not only had she collected culture, and different dialects, she’d brought back with her all kinds of delicacies and unique finds. Now she would offer them from her shop, and due to her connections in various countries, she would be able to supply more to those who wanted it. However, would that be enough? Or would she feel bogged down by the pressure of the day to day routine? It was a test, one that she wasn’t sure she was ready for. After tossing down a few more nuts, the squirrel with a long black stripe down his back, vaulted from limb to limb, and landed right in the middle of the pile. He looked up at her with his fluffy tail twitching. As he let loose a string of chatter she had to wonder what he was talking about. She imagined he might be telling her to stop teasing him and just toss the whole bag.
“No, no, these are special nuts. They need to be treats for you. I won’t get more until next month.”
The squirrel eyed her for a moment, then bolted back up the tree. She knew he would return later to collect the nuts that she left behind. He had gourmet taste when it came to nuts. She could spend hours watching him leap between trees and scuttle ever so close to her. He was the friendliest squirrel she’d ever seen, and made her new home even more precious.
“There you are.” George stepped past the edge of the house, across the lush green grass, to reach his granddaughter. “I was about to call for a search party.”
“Really?” She turned to face him as laughter caused her shoulders to shake. “I didn’t know I was missing.”
“Dinner, remember?” He raised one mostly gray eyebrow. “Are you okay?” “Dinner? But it’s only…” She glanced at her watch and gasped. “Oh wow, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize how late it was.”
“It’s all right, I know you have a lot on your mind. Don’t worry about dinner, we can just have something here.” He smiled as the squirrel bolted through a pile of leaves on the ground. “Looks like you were busy with a good friend.”
“Yes, I guess I was. Sometimes I just completely lose track of time.”
“I understand, I’m guilty of that myself at times. We have much more in common than you realize.”
“I think you’re right about that.” She tucked her shoulder-length brown hair back behind her ears and took one last breath of the fragrant air. “It’s a beautiful day, and even though I feel like I have a million things to do, I just can’t resist enjoying it.”
“And you shouldn’t.” He smiled. “You should enjoy it, every chance you get.”
“I think there’s some leftover pizza in the fridge.” She cringed as she wondered if he would be annoyed with leftovers.
“Perfect. I’ll have a glass of wine and I can make us some iced tea, and we’ll have a nice easy meal. Then you can tell me about all of the things that still need to be done before opening tomorrow.” He walked with her towards the back door. As the leaves crunched beneath her feet she tried to think of another time that her grandfather shared leftovers with her, a time before she’d learned the truth about his past. As a retired spy, he’d made it his mission to be a part of her life, and though she appreciated that, she still had numerous questions about his life. These moments, as ordinary as they were to other people, were like little treasures to her, that she was grateful to be collecting. Kerri had only recently been reunited with her grandfather and he was staying with her temporarily until he found a place of his own. Prior to him moving to Cascade Grove, they’d spent time together on occasion, but never as relaxed and routine as this. Once inside the two bedroom house, she heated up a few slices of pizza in the oven.
“Do you want extra lemon in the tea?” George looked up from the pitcher sitting on the counter in front of him.
“Sure, that would be great.” Kerri grabbed Cashew’s food dish and began to fill it for her. Cashew bounced up and down around her feet, and raised her paws up on to her knees. “Sit, just be patient.” She couldn’t help but smile at the dog’s enthusiasm. Maybe she didn’t have the best manners, but she was always so excited about everything.
Kerri set down her dish, then turned on the faucet in the sink to wash her hands.
As the warm water rushed over her skin she recalled the last time that she went exploring in the woods and found a small waterfall. The water wasn’t very warm, but it was relaxing just the same. “I really need to get out into the woods again. After opening day, I’m going to make sure I have some more time to go exploring.”
“I’d love to join you. I’ve heard about the wonders hidden in these woods. It would be nice for us to do that together.”
“Yes, it would.” She smiled and glanced over her shoulder. “Do you think you’ll be able to keep up with me, old man?”
“Old man?” He raised both eyebrows and took a step towards her. “Do you really want to find out?” His lips spread into a wide grin.
“I think you’re all talk and no game. You’re retired now, right?”
“Supposedly.” He sighed, and his shoulders slumped. “I think it might kill me, I really think it might.”
“Don’t talk like that, Grandpa.” She frowned as she slid the pizza slices out of the oven and onto plates. “It’s not funny.”
“Just about as funny as you thinking that you could ever out hike me.” He poured them drinks and carried the glasses and pitcher to the table. Once they were settled, Kerri studied her grandfather. Despite his salt and pepper hair, his features were still quite youthful. There were deep lines at the corners of his eyes, the only real giveaway that he was in his sixties. He was fit, and strong, in better health than most of the men she knew.
“Did you ever think about what life would be like after you retired from the agency?”
“No, not really.” He stretched his hands, then cracked his knuckles. “I didn’t expect to ever retire I guess. I’m still not sure how I survived this long.”
“See, there’s that talk again, that’s not funny.” Kerri picked up a slice of her pizza and blew on the melted cheese.
“It can be, if you let it be. It’s all about attitude. Right?” He took a big bite of his pizza. “Ow! Darn that’s hot!” He dropped the slice back on his plate.
“You can have a good attitude, but you still burnt your tongue.” Kerri shrugged as she poured him a glass of ice tea and gave it to him. “Some things aren’t impacted by attitude.”
“All right, all right.” He had some tea then set the glass back down on the table. “But my point is this. I didn’t really plan for the future. I thought I’d be a spy until I dropped dead, I guess. When I was forced into retirement…”
“Yes. More or less. Basically, I was given a choice between sitting behind a desk or retiring. I do not sit behind desks well.”
“I believe that.” She laughed. “All right, so we’re both on a brand new path. I’m sure we can figure it out together.”
“I hope so.” He eyed the pizza on his plate, then leaned forward to blow on it. Kerri admired her grandfather, not only for his strength, but for his confidence. On occasion he did come off as a little arrogant, but most of the time his confidence in himself reminded her to have some in herself as well. After a few bites, she remembered just how much she loved leftover pizza.
“So, are you ready for the big day tomorrow?”
“I think I’m about as ready as I can be. I have a few things to do in the morning before the opening, but nothing I’m too stressed about.”
“That’s good. You’ve done a great job of planning this out.”
“Thanks Grandpa. You don’t have to say that though.” She fiddled with the pizza crust on her plate. “I’m running a bit behind schedule, and I’ve already gone over budget on just about everything.”
“You were also faced with a rough time getting the shop ready, if you recall. That delayed things a little while. You have to be easier on yourself, Kerri. There’s no reason for you to be so tough.”
“No reason? I guess maybe not a good reason. But if I’m not careful and honest with myself things could easily fall apart.”
“I know that you won’t let that happen. The difference between you and me is that I believe in you. You’re still learning how to do that.”
“Yes, you’re right. I have a hard time with that. I have always struggled with my confidence.”
“It’s hard to be confident when you feel as if your family abandoned you.” He shook his head. “But we didn’t.”
“I still can’t quite wrap my head around all of this. However, now when I think about the conversations I had with Mom, I can see how there were little clues, hints she was trying to give me. But I just had no idea.”
“Just realize that she did want you to know. She would have told you the truth herself if your father thought that was best.” He finished his slice of pizza and brushed his hands off on a napkin.
“I know she has good intentions. I just wish…” Kerri paused, then shook her head. “I just wish I knew more, Grandpa. Where are Mom and Dad right now? What is Dad working on?” She held his gaze as eagerness caused her muscles to tense and her ears to turn red in anticipation. Her ears always turned red when something piqued her interest.
“You know I can’t tell you that.” His lips drew into a straight line as he returned her gaze. “Nothing would make me happier than to be able to fill in all of that for you, but it’s just not an option. It’s as much for his safety as it is for yours. The kinds of things that he is involved in, they’re not things he ever wants you to deal with.”
“But I’m an adult.” She stood up from her chair and carried the dishes over to the sink. When she dropped them in, they clattered more than she intended. Her muscles rippled in reaction to the sudden sound. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that.”
“It’s all right.” He walked towards her. “It’s perfectly normal for you to be frustrated, Kerri. That was one of the reasons your father didn’t want me to tell you. When he was a young man, a little younger than you, he was incredibly angry at me for the lifestyle I led. I guess he believes that he could protect you from that by keeping secrets from you. But, I thought you needed to know. I might have been wrong.”
“No, you weren’t wrong.” She turned on the faucet and began to wash the plates. “I appreciate that you told me the truth. I would have liked to know sooner, but you’re right, as a child I wouldn’t have been able to handle it. Still, I am going to worry about him, about both of them. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Just know he is highly trained, and can handle just about anything. The next time he has a break from his assignments I’m sure he will want to spend time with you discussing this. But right now, you need to focus on your life. As jarring as it is to discover something like this, you are still the same person, and opening that shop is still your goal.”
“Yes, it is.” She turned around to meet his eyes. “I’m excited about it. Now and then I wonder if it’s really happening.”
“It is. All because of your hard work. That’s something to be proud of.” “But it’s not exactly being a spy, is it?” She grinned. His expression grew shadowed as he shook his head.
“What you’re doing, living your life, moving forward, creating something, it’s great. Don’t ever discount that.”
“Thanks, Grandpa. You’re going to be there right?”
“Bright and early.” He smiled. “It’s an important day. But I think right now, I’m going to get some rest.” He headed for his room, and closed the door behind him. She wondered if he was trying to avoid more questions. She tried not to grill him, but to discover something so surprising about her family’s past, it was difficult not to ask him every question under the sun.
* * *
Kerri left the dishes to dry and began to run through a checklist of the final things she needed to open the next day. All of the supplies and decorations were on hand, but she wanted to bring a particular CD for music, and a few other odds and ends to make the shop feel like home. When she sat down to take a break, her cell phone started ringing. Her heart warmed at the sight of Steve’s name. Things had been busy lately and she didn’t get too much time to talk to him, so every chance she got seemed like a special treat. She answered the phone and sat back against the couch.
“Hi Steve, how are you?”
“Pretty good, thanks. How are you?”
“Doing okay. Just getting ready for tomorrow.” “I’m going to be there for the grand opening.”
“You are?” She smiled as she held the phone a little tighter against her ear. At least he wasn’t there in person to see her blush.
“Of course, it’s one of the biggest events this month in Cascade Grove.”
“Oh please.” She laughed and stood up to put the dishes away. She needed something to distract herself from her nervousness. “I’m sure there are many more important things happening.”
“I’m serious. It’s not often that a new shop opens, especially one as unique as yours. I have to cover the story. If you don’t mind, that is.”
“I don’t mind at all. Unless you’re going to report on how unorganized and unprepared the owner of the shop is.”
“I only report the truth, and I know that won’t be the case. Good luck tomorrow.” “Thanks Steve.” Her heart sped up as her mind swirled with all of the things she could say to him. Steve, would you like to have coffee with me? Steve, how about that dinner we talked about? Steve, could you just tell me if you’re really interested, or I’m crazy? Instead she heard a dial tone, and hung up her phone. She allowed herself to dwell on the awkwardness of her feelings for him for just a few moments, then returned to the task of cleaning up the kitchen. In order to feel calm, she had to be doing something. Her hands had to be in motion, or she had to be involved in a task. It wasn’t unusual for her to clean areas of the house that didn’t actually need it, just so that she could think things through.
Once Kerri finished putting the dishes away she began to sweep the floor. Of course Cashew thought this was a game, and began to chase the broom across the floor. The third time the little dog slid through her dirt pile, she laughed and set the broom back in the closet.
“All right, enough of that. Let’s play.” Kerri grabbed a rope toy from Cashew’s pile of toys and led her out into the living room. When she sat down on the couch, Cashew jumped up beside her and attacked the toy. Laughter tore through her as she watched the small pup snarl and tug at the rope. She tugged back, and Cashew pulled even harder. In the middle of their war, George stepped out of his room.
“What is going on out here?” He laughed as he walked up behind the couch. “I thought the squirrel got inside or something.”
“No, it’s just us having a little fun.” She released the rope and allowed Cashew to prance away with her treasure. “Sorry if we woke you.”
“Oh no, I wasn’t sleeping. I’ve been caught up in this book I’m reading. You know, some of these authors are pretty accurate in their depiction of the spy life, but some really embellish it. I’m wondering how I missed out on all of these adventures.” He chuckled.
“Is it less exciting than the movies make it out to be?”
“In some cases, yes. It depends on the movie, some of the movies are quite accurate. But I can tell you that it’s not often that I’ve jumped a river in a highspeed car chase or tackled a criminal off the side of a building.” He winked. Kerri looked at him and couldn’t tell if he was joking or not. “It has its perks, but most of it, well, most of it is sacrifice.”
“I can see that.” Kerri smiled some. “So why did you get into it? Just following in your father’s footsteps?”
“No, actually. My father tried his best to talk me out of it. He warned me that there might never be a time that I could live a normal life. But I was headstrong, and admired him so much, that I just couldn’t resist. And once I was in, I was in for life.”
“Did Grandma know?”
“She did. She loved you so much and she wanted you to be protected from that life.” His forehead creased and his jaw locked.
“I’m sorry, I’m sure it’s difficult for you to talk about her.”
“No, talking about her isn’t difficult. The moments I missed out on with her, that’s what is difficult. I wouldn’t change anything, but I do wish I’d found a way to spend more time with her, and with you, and your father. It’s a delicate thing, giving your life to a job, and never being able to explain why to the people you love.”
“You just explained it to me. I think I understand. There are careers, and then there are passions, ways of life.”
“Yes. That’s it. And sometimes you’re lucky enough that your career and your passions line up. Like with your shop.”
“You really think that?” She frowned. “Sometimes I feel silly for opening a gift shop.”
“I think you’re opening more than that.”
“You do? I kind of see it as opening doors to places around the world. With having so many items to enjoy and taste, I hope it inspires people to want to travel, or at least learn more about the rest of the world.”
“Which is a priceless gift to offer. Not everyone has the luxury of jetting from country to country. Thanks to you they can travel with their taste buds and the other things you offer in the store.”
“That means a lot to me, Grandpa.”
“You mean a lot to me, kiddo.” He kissed the top of her head. “You’d better get some sleep, or you’re going to be worn out for your opening tomorrow.” The oddly paternal moment caused affection to bubble up within her. With so much of her childhood spent in boarding schools or with nannies, she didn’t often have that feeling of having someone who loved her looking out for her best interests.
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