Cover image for Murder sets seed
Title:
Murder sets seed
Author:
Harrison, Janis (Janis Anne)
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Minotaur, 2000.
Physical Description:
248 pages ; 22 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780312203825
Format :
Book

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X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
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X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
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Summary

Summary

The past six months have been tough on River City, Missouri's leading florist Bretta Solomon. Still getting used to being a fairly young widow and upset over having regained some of the weight she worked so hard to lose, Bretta is throwing herself into her latest project: the restoration of her new home, the historic Beauchamp mansion.Bretta and her flower shop staff have been working overtime, decorating for the upcoming public open house. But a week before the big event, catastrophe strikes: the mansion's former owner, River City matriarch Cameo Beauchamp is strangled in a roomful of people during a momentary blackout. But that's not the worst thing. The murder site is Bretta's ballroom during a dinner-party preview of the house, and several of River City's upstanding citizens are present. Cameo had just accused - but not named-someone in the group of blackmail, and the manner of her death makes them all murder suspects.Ignoring her promise to local sheriff Sid Hancock not to get involved in the investigation, Bretta becomes determined to discover what deadly secrets the blackmailer had uncovered and reveal Cameo's killer - before becoming the next victim.


Author Notes

With the Bretta Solomon series, Janis Harrison has combined her career as a florist with her love of writing. She and her husband live near Windsor, Missouri, where they operate their own greenhouse business.


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Soon after buying and partially restoring historic Beauchamp Mansion in River City, Mo., florist Bretta Solomon finds herself back for more horticultural sleuthing in this pleasant Yuletide cozy (after Roots of Murder). At the request of the former owner and last matriarch of the family dynasty, Cameo Beauchamp-Sinclair, Bretta puts on a preview dinner for a few of the city's more prominent citizens. From the moment the guests arrive, the atmosphere heats up and the tension escalates. Queen bee Cameo antagonizes each of her handpicked invitees, alleging that one of them is blackmailing her. Then the power suddenly goes out. When it returns, Cameo is sitting in her wheelchair, strangled by a string of Christmas lights. Unfairly pegged as the chief suspect, Bretta has to contend with Cameo's irascible housekeeper, Inez, and difficult daughter, Topaz, as well as with the hated local gossip columnist and an overeager librarian. Meanwhile, the days are getting shorter and the mansion staff edgier with all the holiday deadlines. Bretta concludes that the solution to the murder lies in the pastÄin particular, in the diary that Cameo had kept in emulation of her ancestors. Searching for the now-missing journal propels the intrepid flower lady into greater peril. While her tale is overwrought at times, Harrison pulls everything together for a satisfying finale, besides sowing seeds for another sequel. Agent, Lori Pope, Faith Childs Literary Agency. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Series protagonist Bretta Solomon (Roots of Murder), whose florist concern seems to be doing well, purchases an old family mansion in River City, MO, and plans an open house there to encourage business. Before the open house can occur, however, the domineering and manipulative old lady who sold Bretta the estate is murdered. Harrison uses the murder-when-the-lights-go-out scenario to great effect, focusing on a historian, a genealogist, a reporter, a photographer, and a lawyer as suspects. This entertaining tempest in a small-town teapot should be a hit. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One December "Deck your guests with a kissing ba-all," warbled Lois as she climbed the ladder to the arched doorway. "Fa-la-la-la-la. La-la-la-la. 'Tis the way to make them--" She paused for inspiration, found it and continued, "--squ-all. Fa-la-la--"     "Cute, but not funny," I interrupted.     "Bretta, you haven't smiled all day. Relax. The house looks great."     Relax? I'd forgotten the meaning of the word. My nerves were lined up under my skin like a row of dominoes. I wondered how much of a jolt it would take to set off the chain reaction. I pictured my body collapsed in a heap, the pieces swept into a box and put away in a closet. Wearily, I closed my eyes. Perhaps then, I'd get some sleep.     Since I'd bought the Beauchamp estate and taken possession on the first of October, my life had been in turmoil. To further complicate matters, I'd decided to hold my flower shop's annual Christmas open house at the mansion--a self-imposed deadline that was moronic.     The former owner, Cameo Beauchamp-Sinclair, had secluded herself in an apartment while she decided on a permanent residence. Her temporary accommodations had limited space, so I'd been asked to store an abundance of personal items until her daughter, Topaz, could sort through them. Judging from events so far, that day was far away in the unforeseeable future.     The mansion had an elevator, but it went no higher than the second floor. In the past eight weeks, I'd hauled Cameo's countless possessions to the overflowing attic. I'd ordered draperies, restored woodwork, and manned a paintbrush till my fingers cramped. In my spare time, I'd haggled with plumbers, battled with carpenters, and kept a thriving flower-shop business going.     Tonight was preview night. In a weak moment, and there had been many, Cameo had talked me into inviting her and a select few for a sneak peek at the restorations. Tonight's dinner party was a prelude to what the citizens of River City, Missouri, had in store for them a week from tomorrow.     River City takes its name from the Osage River, which flows below the jagged limestone bluffs where the town is perched. We're located about twenty miles from the interstate that links St. Louis to Springfield, with Branson another forty miles beyond. When it comes to entertainment, our thirty thousand residents might not have the cultural advantage of these well-known cities, but left to our own devices we do very well.     I'd scheduled my open house for the first weekend in December, hoping to cash in on the "season of spending" before everyone's pocketbook was deflated. I didn't expect the entire River City populace to come to my soiree, but interest was high.     "Hey, Bretta, are you asleep?" whispered Lois.     I opened my eyes to find her peering worriedly down at me. "No," I answered. "Only horses sleep standing up, which isn't too far off the mark considering--"     "Bretta," said Lois warningly.     I knew she was tired of hearing me gripe about my weight. Lois is the top designer at my flower shop. She's taller than my five feet seven, even without the benefit of the ladder, and several pounds lighter. Her age is a well-concealed secret. During our long friendship, I'd taken tidbits of information and figured her to be in her late fifties. Given the way she looked tonight, I wondered if I should deduct a few years. Her dark hair was swept back from her ears. Her blue eyes sparkled. A flame red dress draped her curvaceous body.     I smothered a jealous sigh. I'd struggled with a weight problem most of my life, and I thought I had it conquered when I lost one hundred pounds. No such luck. I was overeating again, and the weight was coming back. Fifteen pounds didn't sound like much, given the amount I'd lost, but they'd mushroomed my body to the point that my clothes were tight and uncomfortable.     I took my frustrations out on the kissing ball I was holding. Giving it a vicious jab, I said, "I guess I can be thankful this thing didn't clobber me."     The "thing" was a replica of a late-eighteen-hundreds floral design. I'd covered a sphere of Styrofoam with mistletoe, holly, pinecones, and cedar. Loops of red-velvet ribbon formed the hanger. I'd used a thumbtack to anchor the kissing ball at the top of the ballroom doorway, where I'd draped roping interwoven with twinkle lights. The dangling weight of the ball had been too heavy for the tack, and the globe had fallen, narrowly missing me.     Lois had sized up the problem and decided a nail was in order. Above me she drove what appeared to be a spike into the lovely oak wood I'd worked to refinish. Her "Oh, damnation!" didn't help my frame of mind. While she muttered, I gazed around my new place of residence. The beauty calmed a few of my nerves. Lois was right. The house did look great.     I'd painted the walls a soft butternut. A magnificent horseshoe-shaped staircase blocked the view from the front entrance down the long central hall. The graceful curve of the stairs drew the eye to a balcony that circled the upper floor. The doors to all seven bedrooms were closed, and my instructions were that they remain so. I didn't want to think about the cracked plaster, samples of wallpaper, and paint-splattered drop cloths that draped the furniture. Better to concentrate on what I'd accomplished, not what lay ahead.     The library, formal dining room, ballroom, kitchen, and beyond it the servants' quarters made up the ground floor. At the end of the hall a pair of French doors led to a terrace that looked out on the gardens. Just the thought of them made me long for spring and the chance to activate my green thumb.     It was entirely too much house, too much work, and too much money. I'd sunk every cent of my savings into this Greek Revival mansion and would be making payments from now until the end of time. However, plans were already under way for recouping my investment.     What kept me awake at night was the hoped-for success of the open house. I'd gambled nearly all the flower shop's liquid assets on Christmas merchandise to sell. Numerous silk wreaths, arrangements, and tasteful baubles graced the walls, windows, and doors of this landmark house. That was my drawing card--that plus natural curiosity. River City residents would be given the chance personally to view the mansion that had never been opened to the public.     Absently, I took the hammer from Lois and handed her the kissing ball. I stared at the satiny oak parquet flooring. My knees still ached from the work that had gone into bringing the gloss back to those boards. I contemplated the heavy traffic I hoped--and feared--might tread upon this floor.     What if it snows? I asked myself. I'll have to put down throw rugs. What if someone trips or falls? Increase liability insurance. What if it rains, and I don't have enough parking spots? Will cars get stuck in --     I moaned. "I can get myself into the damnedest messes."     Lois stepped down from the ladder and took the hammer out of my hands. She gazed up at the kissing ball. "I dare it to fall now," she said with satisfaction, then swung her attention to me. "Got party-night jitters?"     "Why single out tonight? I'm doomed to a lifetime of nerves." I ran my fingers through my short hair. "See? I already have more gray hair than brown. If you could look inside my head this minute and see the scrambled mess I'm calling a brain, you'd worry, too." I stopped to take a breath but gasped as another thought struck. "What happens if we get funeral orders that have to be filled during the open house?"     "Piece of cake," replied Lois. "Speaking of which--the smells coming from the kitchen are divine. I think I'll trot along and see if Inez needs any assistance."     I lowered my voice. "Don't you dare. The woman is a tyrant. She's made it clear she wants no uninvited nibblers in her kitchen."     Lois raised a finely shaped eyebrow. " Her kitchen? Sounds like you need to have a talk with your employee."     I plunged my hands into the pockets of my robe. "I never should've let Cameo talk me into keeping that old witch as housekeeper. The only good that has come of it was her suggestion that I hire DeeDee."     My future plans include turning this mansion into a boardinghouse. Inez had insisted that she needed help and demanded that I hire the daughter of her friend. I'd complied to keep the peace, but also because once I met DeeDee I knew I had to rescue her from twenty-three years of parental sheltering.     As if my thoughts had conjured her up, DeeDee clamored down the back staircase. When she saw Lois, she skidded to a stop and lingered near the elevator, casting me quick, shy glances.     She reminds me of those ceramic figurines with the wide, innocent eyes. She goes about her duties without saying a word. An uncontrollable stutter keeps her nearly mute. Tonight a kerchief hid her brown hair. A white apron tied tight around her waist kept her black uniform from sliding off her gaunt body.     "Were you looking for me?" I asked.     After darting a swift glance at Lois, DeeDee nodded.     From past experience I knew I'd get nothing out of her while a third person was within earshot. I hurried down the hall and gave her arm an encouraging pat. "Is something wrong?" Instead of answering, DeeDee took a package from her apron pocket and thrust it at me. "What's this?" I asked, fingering the red gift. "It's too early for Christmas presents."     DeeDee gave Lois another quick look then bent toward me. With her mouth close to my ear she stammered, "G-g-g-grapef-f-f-ruit."     My lips twisted into a sour grimace. The perennial box of Christmas grapefruit had arrived from my father this afternoon. I'd directed DeeDee to unpack the fruit, eat it herself, or give it to her family. I had no use for anything sent by my father. Fact was, I had no use for him . He'd abandoned my mother and me thirty-seven years ago when I was eight years old. After my mother died, he'd tried to open the lines of communication by sending me a card on my birthday and grapefruit at Christmas. I'd never reciprocated. Too little and too damned late was the way I saw it, but he persisted.     "You can have the grapefruit, DeeDee, but what's this?" I asked, following the square outline of the package with inquisitive fingers.     "In the b-b-b-box."     My hands stopped their query. "This was in the box my father sent?" She nodded. I pinched a corner and held the package like you would a dead rodent. I didn't want it, didn't want to know what was inside. At forty-five I like to think I've grown past my painful childhood. That part of my life was over, but those old wounds are still sensitive. It irritates me that they have the capacity to jar my peace of mind. "Put it away," I directed.     DeeDee shook her head. "O-o-o-pen it. T-t-try it, y-y-you m-m-might l-l-like it."     I hate when my words of wisdom are tossed back in my face. I'd introduced DeeDee to my philosophy of life, as well as a few vices. Chocolate ice cream topped with crushed potato chips or peanut butter and mashed banana sandwiches wouldn't bring her out of her shell, but I was working on it. Soon I hoped to coax a chuckle from this solemn woman.     DeeDee made a motion to the package. "W-w-well?"     "Some things you try and you don't like."     "B-b-but you do t-t-try."     "I've created a monster," I grumbled, but I ripped off the paper, then gulped when I saw the framed photograph. It was of my father and me, taken when I was about five. My young gaze rested on his handsome face with an adoration that made me wince. I turned the picture over and saw a slip of paper taped to the back. A note. "There were good times, Bretta, and there can be again. Come to Texas and spend Christmas with me."     "How dare he?" I muttered. I forced the picture into DeeDee's hands. "Get rid of it."     "B-b-but--"     "No buts," I declared hotly.     I turned on my heel and stomped back to Lois, who took one look at my face and said, "My guess is that whatever that was about you don't want to discuss it?"     "You got it."     "I should get your mind off that business and back to the here and now?"     "That's right."     She patted her flat stomach. "I feel as if I'm putting on five pounds smelling Inez's cooking. No wonder you're having trouble with your weight."     I rolled my eyes. "Some diversion. Thanks a lot."     Lois grinned. "So what's the deal with Inez?"     "She's a fabulous cook," I said, absently. Spend Christmas with my father? Ha! There was a time when I'd have walked barefoot over an acre of wheat stubble to see him. "I can't fault Inez's work. I just wish she wasn't as prickly as a teasel plant."     A familiar burst of laughter floated out the kitchen door and down the hall to us. It was followed by an unfamiliar cackle that got my full attention. "Was that Inez?" I asked, having never heard a jolly sound from the woman.     "And Lew," confirmed Lois. "He knows how to charm the old ladies."     Lew Mouffit is my deliveryman for the flower shop. At thirty-eight, he lives with his mother, can tie a florist bow to perfection, and knows River City's streets and businesses like no other. The trouble is he knows too much about too many subjects and expounds on them ad nauseam .     Lois nodded to the foyer where Chris Levine, my newest designer, wandered aimlessly, waiting for the other guests to arrive. "It's the young women Lew turns off," whispered Lois. "He's ape over Chris, but so far she hasn't given him a second glance."     Lew and Chris a couple? I studied Chris thoughtfully. With so many distractions in my life I hadn't noticed a romance, even a lopsided one, developing under my nose.     In honor of tonight's dinner party, Chris had curled her long blond hair into a mass of seductive ringlets and secured them with a silver barrette. Her black dress was demure but stylish. Her stiletto heels looked treacherous. I chuckled softly when she leaned against a wall and eased one foot free to massage the arch.     She had grown up in River City but moved away several years ago. When her mother died, Chris returned for the funeral, then stayed to help her father with his cleaning-service business. Personalities had collided, and Chris approached me for a job. She didn't have any floral experience, but I needed an extra pair of hands, so I'd hired her on the spot.     Rapid footsteps from the other end of the hall made me turn. I was relieved to see DeeDee had taken the picture and gone, but now Lois's husband, Noah Duncan, stormed toward us looking efficient with a toolbox in his hand. Noah is my electrician, and he's a genius when it comes to computers and technical gadgets. He's tall and thin and combs his dark hair in the classic James Dean style. Most of the time he's quiet and easygoing, unless he has a burr up his butt--like now.     After putting the toolbox down, Noah glared a hole in me. "Bretta," he said, "last week, when we discussed the wiring in this house, you failed to mention that you planned to put lights around six doorways and both banisters of a gigantic staircase and decorate twelve Christmas trees, eight of which are in the ballroom." He paused for effect. "Do you know what that means ?"     Hoping to lighten his mood and mine, I replied, "I'll have a place of honor with the electric company?"     He speared me with a frenzied stare. "This old house doesn't have the necessary circuits to support all that extra wattage."     A horrible thought put a kink in my feeble attempt at humor. "Not a fire," I whispered, past the lump of panic that rose in my throat.     "Could happen, but more likely a blown fuse."     "I used super-duper extension cords."     Noah sighed in exasperation. "That doesn't matter. The main part of this old house was wired for a few fixtures, not an electrical extravaganza."     "I have to light those trees, Noah. It's part of tonight's presentation." I pointed a shaky finger at him. "You're the electrician. Can't you figure something out?"     "I don't know," he mumbled. "I really think--"     "Look, I have to finish dressing before everybody gets here. Whatever needs to be done, just do it. Those trees have to be lit all at the same time." When he still looked unconvinced I pleaded, "A River City Daily reporter and photographer are coming to this blasted dinner party. If Sylvia writes a good story--"     Lois gasped. " Not Sylvia Whitaker? You didn't tell me she was coming."     "I've tried to forget it, or at least put her out of my mind." When Lois started to speak, I quickly overrode her. "I know. I know. It wasn't my idea to include her. Cameo had the guest list made out."     "That Whitaker woman is ambitious and ruthless. Wonder why Cameo invited her ?"     "Why did she invite any of these people?" I muttered.     "You never got around to telling me who was coming. I hope that was simply an oversight on your part."     "No big deal. Just your average museum curator, librarian, lawyer, and, of course, Sylvia and her photographer, Jason Thompson. You know him."     "He's okay, but the rest of them sound too highbrow for me."     "That's what Chris said. She didn't want to come--"     Noah snapped his fingers. "Hel-l-l-o-o-? Remember me? The lights."     I turned to him and blinked the relevant subject back into focus. "Oh, yeah, as I was saying, if Sylvia is impressed, I might get a great story, and people will flock to my open house. The more people, the more money they might spend on these decorations. More money means--more money," I finished lamely.     Noah unbuttoned his collar and tugged at his tie. "I don't know why I have to sit with the guests." To Lois, he added, "I'll take that hammer."     I stifled a grumpy sigh. I'd already explained tonight's situation. "Cameo presented me with her guest list, then suggested I include my staff, so they can have their pictures taken with the floral designs. You round out the number to twelve. I'd have invited a date, but everyone I know was busy."     Lois snorted. "All you had to say was, `I'm having a party,' and Bill Fenton would have come."     This was a road well traveled, and I was ready for a new route. "I told you I'm not interested in dating. It's too soon after Carl's death."     "It's been eighteen months. Seems to me you should be getting on with your life."     Lois had teased me, cajoled me, and pushed me into working on a relationship that held no interest for me. Bill Fenton is a good man--kind, thoughtful, and caring. I'd gone out with him twice, but each time I'd felt as if I was cheating on Carl. It's not my way to be deliberately cruel, but I'd had enough of Lois's good intentions.     "Have you ever put yourself in my place and wondered what it would be like?" To emphasize my message, I nodded to Noah, who was busy rummaging in his toolbox. I lowered my voice. "You've shared the good and the bad with him. You have a history. If he were to suddenly die, could you forget him and pick up another man? Some women do, but I can't. I don't think you could, either."     Lois looked at her husband. Slowly her eyes widened as a vision of living without him finally dawned bright and clear. I drove my point home. "You don't lose those feelings just because your husband isn't around. I need time. Maybe someday, but not yet."     Noah continued to grumble to himself, ignoring both of us. "I'd be more useful in the basement at that damned fuse box than making nice to a bunch of people I don't--" He broke off when Lois grabbed him and planted a moist kiss on his lips. "What was that for?" he asked.     Lois pointed up at the kissing ball. "Mistletoe," she murmured with a catch in her voice.     Noah grinned at me. "Powerful stuff. I'll need a pound of it. Go. Change. I'll figure out a way to light your trees. It may mean we'll have to--"     "Tell me later," I said as I hurried away.     Wearily, I climbed the elegant horseshoe-shaped staircase to the upper floor. Leaning against the oak railing, I stared at the crystal chandelier suspended from the second-story ceiling. The sprays of cut-glass prisms cast their lights on the foyer below, creating a dazzling pattern of miniature snowflakes.     I was beginning to care for this old house, though I had yet to think of it as home. No routine and too many problems kept me from taking pleasure in what it had to offer. After Carl, my husband of twenty-four years, had passed away, I'd rattled around in my old home, alone and lonely. Buying this mansion with the intention of someday turning it into a boardinghouse seemed to be a practical solution to my solitary existence.     I heaved a sigh. Before those plans could come into being, I had to get through tonight. This dinner party was the groundwork for the open house. I sighed again. Why had my father picked this time in my life for a journey down memory lane? Didn't I have enough to contend with?     Below me, Lois and Noah strolled into view. Watching the tenderness between them made tears prick my eyelids. I opened my mouth to suck in more oxygen for yet another sigh. At this rate I was going to stress out my bronchial tubes. What the hell? One more wouldn't hurt. I expelled a stream of air that stirred the prisms on the chandelier, making them tinkle ominously. In the foyer, Noah, Lois, and Chris looked up.     "Probably the ghost of a demented florist," I called to them, before going to my room to dress. Excerpted from Murder Sets Seed by Janis Harrison. Copyright © 2000 by Janis Harrison. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.