My Deadly Valentine - By Valerie Hansen & Lynette Eason
“There’s no holiday I like better than Valentine’s Day,” Rachel Hollister said. She smiled as she straightened the rack of new cards and admired the predominance of red hearts and white lace. “Except maybe for Christmas and Easter and St. Patrick’s Day and…”
Eloise McCafferty, the elderly founder of the shop, chuckled. “You love greeting cards, period, Rachel. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to turn this operation over to you. My dear Delbert would be rolling over in his grave if he could see how far in debt we are.” She suddenly got an impish grin on her round, full face and her eyes twinkled. “Will you have to fire me to cut corners?”
“Of course not.” Rachel’s blue-eyed gaze met the older woman’s and she realized Eloise had been teasing, although there was an element of truth to the supposition.
“Whew! That’s a relief.”
Sobering, Rachel patted her mentor’s shoulder. “I still wish you’d let me buy an interest the way I offered to. I have a little money saved and…”
“No. You’re like a daughter to me. Just don’t bury yourself in this place 24/7 and miss out on the rest of life.” She winked. “Like maybe marriage.”
Rachel gave a nervous tug on the hem of her embroidered T-shirt and smoothed it over her jeans. “Believe me, I discovered a long time ago that I don’t need a man in my life to make it whole.”
“Maybe not a snob like Lance Beech or the guys you dated before he came along, but there must be a perfect husband for you somewhere.”
“In a little town like Serenity? I can’t see any good prospects. Besides, I prefer to stand on my own two feet.”
She purposely changed the subject. “So, are you ready to tackle the last of the shipment that came in yesterday or do you want me to do it?”
“You’re the boss. You tell me to jump and all I’ll ask is how high.”
Thoroughly enjoying the banter, Rachel nodded and pointed. “Okay, Miss Froggy. You go in the back room and check packing slips while I rearrange these drawers. There’s a lot of old stock in here that I need to weed out and I wouldn’t want you to feel bad having to watch.”
“I don’t mind as long as we donate the rejects to charity the way we planned.”
Rachel pulled an empty cardboard box closer and went to work as soon as the older woman left the room. It was a tedious chore, one that muted her senses and lulled her usually quick mind into a daydreaming state.
Valentine’s Day. What a lovely occasion, she mused. Except that I rarely receive any of the sweet, sentimental cards we sell.
Perhaps that should have bothered her but it didn’t. After her recent, messy breakup with Lance and the way some of their mutual friends had started practically shunning her, even at church, Rachel was far from ready to open her heart to another man, let alone anyone local.
She was just rising and getting ready to drag the half-full cardboard box to the next drawer when she heard a muffled, squeaky noise coming from the back room.
No one answered. “Eloise? Are you all right?”
Waiting quietly for an answer and hearing nothing, Rachel frowned. That was strange. Unless Mrs. McCafferty’s hearing aid battery was going dead, she should have replied.
“Eloise? Answer me.”
Instead of a spoken response, Rachel heard a piercing scream! She gasped. Her feet felt rooted to the carpet. In the few seconds it took for her to force herself to move, the wordless screeching was repeated so many times she lost count.
Jace Morgan was cruising Main Street, just passing the grocery store, when the call came over his radio. He was still learning his way around the area and might have had trouble locating a residence on one of the many unmarked, outlying, dirt roads, but the commercial district was easy to navigate, especially since the sheriff’s office was right across the square.
He radioed that he was on scene as he parked his black-and-white patrol car in front of the group of stores. Leaving the light bar flashing, he stepped out of the vehicle.
An icy wind chilled him through his brown bomber jacket and he shivered, reminded that he was no longer in Southern California. The streets seemed awfully quiet for a Friday morning. Then again, what did he know? Maybe for Serenity, this was bustling activity.
One thing was certain. He was a lot less likely to get shot at again while he was working