Playing for Keeps Playing for Keeps (Hope Valley #10) - Jessica Prince Page 0,2

to make people jealous.”

Oh, I did know. She’d told me about her extensive collection countless times. She’d even invited me over for lemonade once and spent two hours showing them off, giving me a very detailed history of when and where she’d gotten every tiny statue.

“Don’t worry, Ms. Weatherby, your collection is safe. No burglars in sight.”

“Well, that’s a relief.” With her knickknacks no longer under threat, she let out a relieved sigh and pulled the door open farther, revealing her brightly colored muumuu and fuzzy house slippers. “I just made a fresh pitcher of lemonade if you want to come in for a glass.”

A sense of panic washed over me. Even with those crazy thick glasses, the woman was still blind as a bat, so she couldn’t tell the difference between salt and sugar. It was something I’d discovered the hard way.

“I’d love to Ms. W, but I’m actually heading out. Maybe another time?”

She gave me a suspicious look. “You aren’t going out carousing, are you? Young people these days. Always carousing.” She pointed a gnarled, arthritic finger in my face. “That’ll get you in trouble. You could pick up some good-for-nothing lowlife, and next thing you know, he’s breaking into your building, stealing all the neighbors’ most valuable possessions so he can pawn ’em to pay for his crank! It could happen. I just saw it on Dateline. All her neighbors were robbed blind! And the police never found her body,” she added, almost as an afterthought.

“I’m not carousing,” I promised. “Just having dinner with some friends.”

One of her bushy white eyebrows hiked high on her wrinkled forehead. “At a bar?”

“At their house.”

“And these friends . . . are they the criminal types?”

“One owns a flower shop and the other is a cop.”

That seemed to finally placate her. “Well . . . all right then.” That finger came back into my line of sight. “But if someone offers you a funny-looking cigarette, you say no. Understand? It could be the weed. And you make sure you watch them pour your drinks. I saw a show where a woman was on vacation and someone slipped something in her drink, and she woke up in a bathtub full of ice missing her liver.”

Sweet Jesus.

I began backing away slowly toward the elevators, reminding myself to have a talk with my little old neighbor about all those crime shows she watched when I had the time. “You got it, Ms. W. Tell you what, I’ll pour all my own drinks. How’s that sound?”

“They could still have put something in the bottle, but I guess that’ll just have to do. I’ll keep a lookout. If you don’t come home by morning, I’ll call the police to start a manhunt.”

“Sounds good. See you later, Ms. Weatherby.”

After a quick stop at the store—because I had indeed forgotten the wine—I pulled up in front of Hayden and Micah’s house. I made my way through the jungle of plants and flowers that made up their front yard and knocked on the front door.

It flew open a second later, and I nearly went deaf from the frequency of the high-pitched shriek. Hayden’s daughter from her first marriage, Ivy, began to jump up and down in her little glittery pink biker boots. Her long curly red hair was a wild mess of tangles down her back and shoulders, and her neon pink tutu and skull leggings were covered in dirt, probably from playing in the garden in the backyard.

“Charlie! You’re here!”

“Hey there, munchkin. How’s it going?”

“It was good,” she stated crestfallenly, “but then Mommy told me I couldn’t have five dollars to get ice cream at school tomorrow.” Her cheerful demeanor fell in an instant. Her eyes went big and began to water while her chin began to quiver. “Do you think you could give me five dollars?”

I gave my head a shake and tried my hardest not to laugh. “Uh-uh, girly. I know what you’re playing at, and it’s not gonna work.”

Hayden’s voice sounded from inside the house just seconds before she appeared in the entryway. “Ivy Young. What have I told you about using The Look.”

Ivy dropped her head back and huffed dramatically. “I can only do it to Mike, ’cause he’s a sucker.”

Hayden beamed, proud as hell of her little girl’s capability to manipulate her soon-to-be stepfather. “That’s right. Now go wash up. We’ll be eating soon.” Ivy went skipping off, the five dollars all but forgotten.

“Look at you, raising your girl right.”

“Thanks. I think so.”

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