Ivy Preston waited a long time to get married. This time she’s going to do more than make it to the altar with Apple Grove’s mayor, Adam Thompson. When Ivy tries to do a good deed and stumbles over a body, her former fiancé, Stanley, is accused of the crime. Ivy hopes she’s not the only one who believes in his innocence.
When one of her beloved kittens falls ill, Ivy must come to terms with her worries. Worse than being framed for murder, Ivy fears whether she can be the kind of wife Adam needs, and her ability to parent if she can’t even take care of a cat. Through the love and support of her mom and Adam, and her friends, Ivy is determined to clear her good name. With her nuptials looming, she hopes to not only find a killer, but make it to her own wedding.
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“This is Ivanna in the morning,” the throaty voice from my car radio chanted. “Ready to sign off. Remember, North Star Candies…the way to enjoy the day. Who doesn’t adore North Star mocha fudge? Treats so light they’ll take you beyond the moon!”
“Hmm, North Star might have been the best around here,” I told my car radio. “Before Featherlight Confectioneries made caramel cashew with sea salt.” I pulled into my driveway, the cool sunny breeze whipping my hair when I opened the car door. Yippee! Not only was March arriving like a lamb, I had presents.
My mail carrier, Janie, knew I’d stop in at home at lunchtime to check on the kittens, so she’d left the beautiful box from Emblem Paper Works on my front stoop next to my still tightly budded tulips. Sigh.
I put my hand over my fluttering heart and drooled once again over the wonderful, fabulous hunk of man who was marrying me. The box of wedding invitations sitting there pushed me one step closer to the altar, which I vowed I would actually make stick this time. When I could touch the scrumptious, thick, silky paper and read the words, I was sure the wedding would finally feel real, and everything would be perfect.
Adam Truegood Thompson, the man who loved cats and children, fed me gourmet coffee and chocolate, would take me, Ivy Amanda Preston, as his lawfully wedded wife. Mmhmm.
I quit dawdling, grabbed the box of invites, which technically wasn’t a present since I’d paid for them, and checked on Adam’s kittens, which were currently in residence at my house, so their father wouldn’t be tempted to harm a hair on their little heads.
Sadly, the darling fluffballs broke the line of pure-bred Egyptian Mau cats when my silver, Memnet, got to, um, know Adam’s cat, Isis, a smoke, a little better than we’d anticipated last fall. Mem and Adam were currently batching it at his place downtown.
I called “kitty, kitty,” as I dumped the box on my kitchen table, even though Isis always gave me the eye, like “what is this crazy woman doing?” when I tried to get her to come. She would appear when she needed me. Which was rarely. The four kittens, on the other hand, bumbled over. I squatted to play with them.
The invitations called to me during the time I created a peanut butter and rhubarb jam sandwich and ate. I studied the siren carton while I jingled my car keys and dithered whether to open it now or wait for Adam, so we could enjoy opening it together.
Guess which side won?
I used the handy-dandy key I happened to be holding to slice through the packing tape. Uh-oh, that color of blue edging wasn’t what I remembered in my order. Flutter went thunk in my chest. I reached with a quivering hand and matching lip to lift out the sample invitation left open on top of the neatly sealed packages.
“You are cordially invited to attend the nuptials of Miss Ivanna Lynn Pressman and Mr. Jason Albert Carter…”
I double-checked the address on the box. Yup, my name, Ivy Preston, and my address, 312 Marigold Street, Apple Grove, Illinois.
I picked up the sealed package of invitations and turned it over. From the outside they seemed the same as the open one. I guessed our names were close enough to confuse, but I still felt wounded and anonymous.
Ivanna, hmm? Exotic, nothing like me. It couldn’t be…seriously? Ivanna from the radio show?
I glanced again at the invitation. Their wedding was the weekend before mine. Ours. At Ethereal Events, the same venue Adam and I had booked for the last Sunday in June. I know, a Sunday, but it was the closest we could get to the end of May, Mother’s preferred date.
Fortunately, the invoice had Ivanna’s correct address—on the south edge of Apple Grove—and I thought I’d do the neighborly thing and take them over to her after work rather than waste time sending them back through the mail. Besides, ouch, those things were expensive enough already. I grabbed some tape from the drawer and quickly slapped it across my key slash, called “farewell and behave” to the cats and rushed back out the door.
As I started my car’s engine, I reached for the radio button, ready to catch a little of the afternoon show on WWAG, Apple’s Grove’s little radio station. Ivanna could be home when I went there. Hmm…I might get to meet a local celebrity. Anticipation would make the afternoon wing by.
I drove the few blocks downtown to Mea Cuppa, the coffee and book store Adam owned and at which I now helped. The Apple Grove store was one of a small chain based in Chicago. Pushing the back door open, I called, “Martha, I’m back,” to our shop assistant and my neighbor who worked three days a week. “Anything exciting happen?”
She was a bouncy mom of twin kindergarteners who was overjoyed to let her mother and her husband’s parents share grandparent duties while she earned some needed money.
“When does anything exciting happen around here?” she said with a little toss of her reddish-blond hair nicely shaped to her head. I envied anyone who had such control of her hair. Mine tended toward the wild, musk ox side. “Just that new order from the book distributor. I had them set it by the office door.”
“Thanks! I received a special delivery at home, too.”
“Do tell!” She rubbed her hands together.
“Of course! Be right back.” I went to put my purse away in my office desk and returned to the wide open, high-ceilinged room with narrow creaky wooden floorboards, to help her prep for the afternoon coffee rush. Today’s coffee special was mocha mint, and of course I needed to sample some, so I could eagerly explain its engaging qualities to our clientele. The hot mugful went down smoothly, and I regretfully decided against seconds. I told Martha about the invitations instead, to keep my mouth too busy to stuff in more calories. “So, if that’s OK with your schedule, I want to take off fifteen minutes early, so I can still meet Adam at Tiny’s for a quick supper after I drop off the box at Ivanna’s house. Can you lock up?”
“Sure, boss.” Martha grinned and popped a square of chocolate fudge from Featherlight Confectionaries in her mouth. “I’ll just ask Mom if she can get supper ready.”
I ordered myself to stop mentally drooling over fudge, and a mom who would cook dinner at the drop of a hat. I could think of my upcoming wedding dress fitting instead. “I can’t imagine what it would be like, having parents so close.”
The bell on the door played, “Oh, what a beautiful morning,” as customers entered.
Much as I wished my mom lived physically closer, having a two-hour warning, the drive from Maplewood where I’d grown up in northern Illinois south to Apple Grove, was a relief before her tornado-like visits. Adam’s father had passed away years ago and his mother, sadly, had Alzheimer’s.
At five forty-five, Colleen Bailey, our after-school helper, and Martha were ably handling customers, so I breezed back into the late afternoon light. Sunset was five minutes away and would be romantic by the time Adam and I held hands at the buffet for our too-brief connection of the day. He had an evening meeting—when didn’t he?—with some committee or other of the city council. Part time mayor was really time and a half, but he was happy, and I was proud of him.
I needed sunglasses for the drive west and south, the approximate direction of Ivanna’s neighborhood. New townhouses clashed with the gentility of Apple Grove’s historic center. Progress, though, trumped desperate clinging to the past, something Adam was attempting to work on by bringing new businesses and life to our little adopted city.
There it was—Ivanna’s address, the right hand of a two-story dark-sided and narrow-windowed building. I supposed it was modern classic, but I frowned at its bleakness. The tree in the front yard was spindly, with its “I’m new and insured the first year” store tag fluttering in the breeze. I knocked and rang the bell before depositing the box on the rubber welcome mat.
Weatherman Bob at WWAG reported possible showers in the early morning hours, so I hesitated to leave it exposed. As I reached to test the knob, I noticed the interior door was ajar. Maybe I should push it open and shove the box inside. I didn’t even need to set foot in the entry.
With a peek up and down the street, deserted for the dinner hour, I gingerly eased the glass storm door toward me, then tentatively pushed the black-painted interior door inward. Not even a squeak added to the spooky tension. I grinned. I’d been reading way too many mysteries and detective dramas lately. “Hello! Just dropping this off!” I called as I slid the box forward, though I was certain no one was home.
Except the outstretched fingers on the floor I happened to see appeared too real to spring from an overactive imagination.
I swallowed and pulled back, still on my knees on Ivanna’s stoop. If it was a crime scene, I shouldn’t go in. My heart raced and the sweat on my brow would make my hair frizzier.
But what if she was hurt or sick?
What if an assailant was lurking?
What if I was lying there and someone saw me on the floor?
What if it wasn’t her?