Her cuckolded husband is the prime suspect.
But a jury’s verdict is not guilty.
How can that be?
It was no secret that Sophia Reilly had lovers, a lot of them, and always had. Her husband, Eric, decided to go to a remote fishing shack to decide what to do about his marriage and while he was gone, she was found murdered in their home.
Was he responsible for her murder? Or was it one of the other men in her life?
Sheriff Mike and the Beaver County District Attorney are convinced that Eric’s the murderer, but the jury finds him not guilty. Is that the beginning of the story or the end?
This is the 22nd book in the Cedar Bay Cozy Mystery Series by a USA Today Bestselling Author.
Release date: May 29, 2022
Print pages: 171
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The Murder Verdict: A Cedar Bay Cozy Mystery
“Get what you needed, Roxie?” Kelly asked as her right-hand woman at the coffee shop walked in the door after asking Kelly earlier if she could leave for a while. “Are you feeling okay? You don’t look like your normal happy self.”
“Kelly, I’m going back to your office for a few minutes. I need to pull myself together,” Roxie said as she passed by Kelly and walked into the kitchen.
For the moment, Kelly’s Koffee Shop was quiet, the lunchtime crowd having left, and there was less than an hour left until Kelly locked the doors for the day, only to return in the morning, and to do it all over again.
“Kelly, can you come here a minute?” she heard Charlie, her long-time cook call out from the kitchen.
She looked over at Darla, the young college girl who worked at the coffee shop when she didn’t have classes and said, “I’ll be in back in the office for a few minutes. If something comes up you can’t handle, come get me.”
When Kelly walked into the kitchen, she said, “What’s up Charlie? And by the way, that salmon dish was amazing today. Glad I bought a lot of it when the ship came back from Alaska. We can keep it on the menu for a few more days.”
“Glad you liked it. I tried something new, and I’m happy with the way it turned out. I got tired of the same old, same old. Anyway, think you need to go see what’s wrong with Roxie. She’s been crying ever since she went into your office. Think she needs some TLC, but I have no idea why. Thought you ought to know.”
“Thanks, Charlie,” Kelly said as she walked to the far side of the kitchen and knocked on her office door. “Roxie, it’s me, Kelly. May I come in?”
A few moments later she heard Roxie’s tearful voice very tremulously say, “Yes.” Kelly opened the door and saw Roxie holding a tissue to her red-rimmed eyes and tears falling down her cheeks.
“Obviously, something is wrong, Roxie. Would you like to talk about it or do you just want to go home? We’ll be closing up shortly, anyway, so feel free to leave early.”
“I’m sorry, Kelly,” Roxie said, and then she started sobbing. Kelly walked over to her and hugged her. “It’s Sophia. I found her and…” Roxie said, unable to finish her sentence.
“Cry it out. You can tell me when you’re ready. Let me get you a glass of water. I’ll be back in a minute,” Kelly said as she opened the door of the small office and went over to the kitchen cabinet to get a glass.
“Everything okay in there, Kelly?” Charlie asked.
“Yes and no. Yes, Roxie is alright, but something is definitely not right with her world. I’m taking her a glass of water,” Kelly said as she walked over to the refrigerator with a glass to get cold water from the dispenser.
She walked back into her office and handed the glass to Roxie who had stopped sobbing. “Little better?” Kelly asked.
“Yes, a little,” Roxie answered.
“Want to talk about it?” Kelly asked.
“Not really, but I think I need to get it out, because it’s been eating away at me for so long. You might as well sit down. This is going to take a while.”
“I’ve got all afternoon, take as long as you want.”
“Thanks, Kelly,” Roxie said as she took a big sip of water. “It’s about my sister, Sophia. I know I’ve mentioned her name to you. We’ve never been very close, and quite frankly, I’ve always been a little embarrassed by her.”
“Always?” Kelly asked.
“Yes, from the time we were teenagers. She’s two years older than I am, and,” Roxie said, taking a big breath, “to say she’s always been a seductress would probably be understating it. I was two years behind her in high school, and I can’t tell you how many times I heard stories about my sister and some guy, or guys, then it was some teacher, and on and on.”
“Were the stories true?” Kelly asked.
“Yes, I’m sure they were. Once I confronted her about it because I was sick and tired of having boys that I went out with thinking I was just like her. They’d probably heard about her from their older brothers. I fought to hang on to my virginity more times than I care to count.
“Anyway, she told me she just liked men and they liked her and what was wrong with that? I told her people were talking about her and not in a good way. I’ll never forget that she told me she really didn’t care what people thought about her, because she was going to have a far better life than any of them.”
“Wow, what did you say?”
“I tried to talk to her about her reputation and how if mom and dad ever found out it would really hurt them. She told me she could care less about her reputation and really, about mom and dad as well. She said as soon as she graduated, she was leaving home and living with one of the men she’d been seeing.”
“Did she?” Kelly asked.
“Yes, the day she graduated she went to live with one of the wealthiest men in Cedar Bay. If I told you his name, you’d be shocked, because now he and his wife seem to have the perfect marriage.”
“Then I take it she wasn’t with him long?” Kelly asked.
“No, there were a succession of men after that. She left Cedar Bay and moved from town to town, each move with a different man, and each move with a wealthier man. Eventually she ended up in Los Angeles, and I don’t quite know what happened, but she came back here to Cedar Bay with a lot of money.
“Not long after she moved back, she got married to a wealthy man who, as I understand it, has a few clients and plays the stock market from a little office he and his partner have downtown.”
“Sounds like she got over her wanton ways and settled down.”
“Kelly, she settled down, but I always suspected she was still enjoying men outside her marriage. Kind of one of those a leopard doesn’t change its spots things. And today I discovered I was right,” Roxie said, starting to cry again.
“I don’t see Sophia that often or for that matter, even talk to her. We really have nothing in common, but for some reason, we’ve always exchanged birthday presents. When I was serving the customers today, one of them mentioned it was his birthday, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that I’d forgotten to get Sophia a present. That’s why I asked you if I could leave.”
“You’re not alone. I’ve done the same thing more times than I care to remember,” Kelly said.
“Well, I went to the flower shop because I thought that would be a fast way to get a gift. Picked up a beautiful bouquet of flowers and drove over to her house. I saw the gardener’s truck out in front and her car, a little red Porsche convertible, was in the driveway. When I rang the doorbell there was no answer. I tried several times, because I was sure she was there.
“I thought maybe the gardener was being noisy in the backyard and she hadn’t heard me, so I went around the house and saw that the back door was open. I walked in and overheard Sophia talking to a man I assume was the gardener. In fact, I know it was, because when I peeked around the corner after they’d stopped talking, I discovered my sister and the gardener in a compromising position on the kitchen counter. I knew it was the gardener because of the clothes that were thrown on the floor, but that’s not the worst part,” Roxie started sobbing again.
“You poor thing,” Kelly said. “Did they see you?”
“No, they were way too involved in what they were doing. I’m sure they had no idea I was even there.”
“If that wasn’t the worst part, what was? “
“He was thanking her for not turning him into ICE, you know, the immigration agency, which probably means he’s here illegally. Maybe she was blackmailing him. I don’t know.”
How do you feel about her now?” Kelly asked.
“On one hand I hate her, and I never want to see her again for all the times I had to hear things about her when I was younger. On the other hand, I think my mother must have known, because one of the last things she ever said to me was, 'Please watch over Sophia. She’s not capable of doing it herself.' ”
“What do you think Sophia will say when you tell her, if you do, that you saw her in that situation?” Kelly asked.
“Knowing Sophia, I rather doubt she’d care. She’d probably like to know that she had an audience. And the gardener had to be a lot younger than she was.”
“I’ve read about women that sound like her. There’s an animal magnetism about them that most men can’t resist, and age is not really relevant. They’re seductive even when they wash the dishes or take out the trash. It’s just something in them.”
“Yes, that would define Sophia. She’s probably the most sexual human being I’ve ever met, and wouldn’t you know she’d be my sister?” Roxie semi-grinned and rolled her eyes, which Kelly was glad to see. It looked like she was coming a bit back to her normal cheery self.
“What about her husband?” Kelly asked.
“I hear Eric’s a nice guy, but I’ve never even met him, if you can believe that. I told you we weren’t close and not meeting your brother-in-law shows you how really distant we are. I can’t believe he doesn’t know about her. What I don’t understand is how he puts up with it. Maybe he feels that even though every man who sees her wants to go to bed with her, he’s the one she’s married to.”
“I take it that you think she’s having other affairs besides the one with the gardener. Do you think she is?” Kelly asked.
“Yes, I’d bet almost everything I own on it. One time we had lunch, and she must have had twenty text messages while we were together. She got up to go to the restroom, and while she was gone, her phone chirped indicating another text had come in on it. I was curious, even though I knew it was none of my business, but I couldn’t help myself.”
“And?” Kelly said.
“And it was from some guy named Sten saying how he was counting the hours until they could be together again.”
“I’d have to agree with you. That doesn’t sound like a spam message,” Kelly said.
“Yeah, and there’s even more to that one which is even more worrisome,” Roxie said.
“And that would be?”
“Because Sten is a very different name, and she mentioned something once about her husband’s partner, Sten. I kept hoping against hope that she wasn’t having an affair with Eric’s business partner, but with Sophia, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.”
Kelly was quiet for several minutes and then she said, “Roxie, I know this has to be upsetting, but where do you see yourself going from here?”
“I don’t know. I guess the best thing to do would be to just let it go. It’s pretty obvious to me at this point that she isn’t going to stop doing what she’s doing. But she is my sister, and I worry about her.”
“What worries you?” Kelly asked.
“It’s so horrible, I hate to even say it.”
“Actually, if you’ve kept it bottled up for a long time, it might just help to get it out. And if you want to cry when you do tell me, I have a big shoulder.”
“Thanks, Kelly. All right. Here it is. I’m terrified someone is going to kill Sophia. I think what I know is just the tip of the iceberg, and a lot of people probably hate her for breaking up a relationship or even a marriage. All the time you hear on the news about people killing people over things that are far less serious than something like that would be. And I worry that someday Eric may get to the breaking point and want to punish her or worse for what she’s done to him.”
Kelly paused for several moments as she thought about everything Roxie had told her, then she said, “Roxie, you’re not Sophia, nor are you responsible for Sophia. She’s obviously chosen not to tell you or involve you in what she’s doing, and that’s probably a good thing. It would seem to me that the best thing for you to do is what you’ve been doing. Continue to have a relationship with her, but just not a close one, so you don’t get pulled into something that would probably be repugnant to you.”
“What do you think I should do about her birthday?” Roxie asked.
“I think I’d go by her house when you leave here, write a note saying you’re on a tight schedule today, but you didn’t want to forget her birthday, and leave the flowers by her front door. That way you won’t have to even address the fact that you heard and saw what you did. As hard as it will be, try and forget it. I know that’s easier said than done, but I think that’s really all you can do.”
“Yeah,” Roxie said. “Kind of one of those accept what you can’t change things.”
“Honestly? Yes, but I want you to know that I’m always here if you want to talk about it,” Kelly said.
Roxie dried her eyes and stood up. “Okay, boss. I’m over it. Thanks for listening. I think we both better get back to work or Charlie and Darla will probably quit, and that would not be a good thing.”
“Agreed,” Kelly said as she gave Roxie a big hug and they walked out into the kitchen. Charlie never acknowledged them or the fact that Roxie’s nose and eyes were bright red. Kelly made a mental note to compliment him on his discreetness as she walked back into the coffee shop.
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