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Pretty Poison

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She looked around the shop. Everything was set up for her first customer. Except for the garden spade in the middle of the floor . . .
The pointed end of the spade was tinged reddish brown. Carolina clay, probably. But this seemed darker. There were traces of it leading toward the warehouse door in the back of the shop. Wondering what happened and who she was going to chew out for it, she picked up the shovel. That’s when she saw him. Her hands went numb, and the shovel clattered to the floor.
She wasn’t sure how long she stood there looking at the man. Her first impulse was to turn around and run out of her shop, screaming for help. But she was made of sterner stuff. Or at the very least, she was morbidly curious. Years of being a cop’s wife didn’t prepare her for this. But her background as a researcher made her push her emotion aside and take another look.
The man was facedown in one of her attractive wicker baskets filled with anemone bulbs. It was part of the autumn scene she’d created, complete with scarecrow and pumpkins. He’d obviously fallen forward, dragging the scarecrow from its perch on the oak rocking chair. The straw figure looked forlorn, lying half under the man’s weight like some bizarre teddy bear . . .
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
A Berkley Prime Crime Book/published by arrangement with the authors
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / May 2005
Copyright © 2005 by Joyce and Jim Lavene.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-01051-8
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Anemone nemorosa
N.O. Ranunculaceae
Common names:
Windflower, wood anemone
is originally derived from the Greek word
, meaning wind. It belongs to the buttercup family. The Chinese called it the flower of death. The Egyptians believed the anemone denoted sickness because of the flush of color on the backs of the white sepals. In Europe, it was custom to hold your breath while running through a field of anemones. They believed that even the air around the anemones was poisonous.
IT WAS TOO LATE for Peggy Lee to stop when she saw the car. There wasn’t even time to sound the air horn that scared away dogs and small children. It was like being in a slow motion movie.
The green Saturn Vue pulled out of the parking lot, and her bike glided right into the driver’s side door. The oversized front tire absorbed most of the shock. The impact jarred her but didn’t knock her down. She put out her legs to brace herself and stared belligerently at the man behind the wheel.
The driver couldn’t open his door with her bike nudged up against it. Instead, he opened his window. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there. Are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” She removed her helmet and feathered her fingers through her shoulder-length hair that was more white than red. “You could be a little more careful coming out like that. You know, share the road.”
He squinted into the sunlight behind her. “I wasn’t looking for traffic on the sidewalk. Aren’t bicycles supposed to be in the street?”
“When the street doesn’t have potholes big enough to swallow them.” She moved her bike to the parking lot, checked the tires and the front fender. Nothing seemed to be wrong with her or the bike. She was lucky.
The driver parked his car beside the Starbucks coffee shop again. He waited while she looked over her bike. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
“I’m sure.” She frowned at her watch. “Except for being late. Of course, that isn’t your fault. The city is tearing up Morehead Street again, so I had to come up East. Unfortunately, all the coffee drinkers seem to come this way, too.”
He glanced down at the spreading coffee stain on his blue shirt. “Do you ride to work every day?”
She really looked at him for the first time. He wasn’t too bad. A little ordinary maybe, brown hair and brown eyes. But he had a nice smile. Good teeth. Not that it mattered. She was too old to have those thoughts. She hadn’t been a widow that long. “I’m doing my part for the ozone. Everything seems to be fine. Thank you for stopping.”
“Wait!” He took a business card from his wallet. “Take this in case everything isn’t fine. Call me if you need anything.”
She glanced at the card, then tucked it into her pocket. “I will.”
“NOW THE BEST THING you can do is not to use tap water on these at all,” Peggy said as she held up the attractive, white African violet in the pretty, cobalt blue glass pot. “They’re very sensitive to salt. Rainwater or bottled water is much better for them. If you think you have a salt buildup, as this little lady does, you’ll see the white residue on the pot.”
She pointed out the rime on the pot’s edge. The women in the audience looked carefully at it. A few took notes.
“Take the plant out and repot it. If you’re going to reuse the same pot, be sure to clean it thoroughly with about a teaspoon of chlorine bleach in some warm water. Fill the pot with fresh soil halfway, then gently replace the plant and cover the roots. Be sure to water often, before the plant dries out. Then drain the excess to avoid root or crown rot. Only fertilize once or twice a year in the summer and allow the excess to drain completely.”
“What if it stops blooming?” a voice asked from the group of twelve women in the Kozy Kettle Tea and Coffee Emporium.
“Then give it more light. These plants are very affected by light. If they stop blooming, it’s more likely you have them in a bad spot than that they need fertilizing. Be patient with them.”
“Is it true you can only grow them if you’ve gone through menopause?”
Peggy laughed at the question. “Yes, and you can only dye your hair at midnight during the full moon or the color will run. That’s an old wives’ tale. Julie Warner has a very nice collection at her home, and I don’t think she’s gone through menopause yet.”
There was some snickering in the audience. Everyone knew who Julie Warner was, of course. Her restored 1902 house was in every Charlotte magazine. Her name and face were in every society column. Her husband was Mark Warner, a senior executive with Bank of America. Of course,
had African violets that bloomed constantly.
“Any other questions?” When there was no response, Peggy nodded. “Thank you for coming this morning. Good luck with your African violets. Next week, we’ll be talking about planting your bulbs for spring.”
A light smattering of applause filtered through the group before they began to gather their pocketbooks and jackets to leave. The scent of coffee mingled with the aroma of freshly baked bread and spicy herbs.
Peggy picked up her tote bag. She smiled at the man behind the counter. “Would you mind if I leave this African violet and potting soil here a little longer? I don’t think I can carry all of this with me.”
He laughed. “Don’t worry about it. Another cup of peach tea for the road?”
“No thanks, Emil. I have to get over to the shop. I got here late this morning. Selena called to tell me she was running late, too. I haven’t even opened yet.”
“It’s barely after ten. You’re not too far behind.” Emil Balducci’s thick gray mustache drooped a little on the right side when he wasn’t smiling. That didn’t happen often.
He was one of the happiest men Peggy had ever known. With his broad Sicilian features, craggy brows, and shadowed dark eyes, he was quite a ladies’ man. Especially when his wife, Sofia, wasn’t at the shop. “Thanks again for letting me have the garden club meeting here.”
He held up his big, callused hand. “I enjoy the talks, and you bring in customers after the morning rush. Maybe you could have a garden club every day, hmm?”
“When they can clone a couple more of me, we’ll talk. It’s all I can do to keep up with this one. But we’ll be back next Thursday.”
Claire Drummond, a tall, gaunt woman with very large white teeth, approached her. “I really appreciate the advice, Peggy! I was wondering if you could come over and take a look at my terrarium sometime. It’s developed some mildew or fungus that I can’t get rid of.”

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