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Peggy Beldon walked into her newly planted garden, taking real pleasure in the sights and smells that surrounded her. This was her private place, her one true source of serenity. The fresh briny scent of the water off Puget Sound drifted toward her as she watched the Washington State ferry glide from Bremerton toward Seattle on its sixty-minute journey. This was a typical May afternoon in Cedar Covecomfortably warm with just a hint of a breeze.
Peggy uncoiled the garden hose and moved carefully between the rows of leaf lettuce, sweet peas and pole beans. She had a strong practical streak, expressed in her vegetable and herb gardens; she satisfied her craving for beauty with the flower gardens in front. Looking back at the house that always had been her dream, Peggy smiled. She'd grown up in Cedar Cove, graduated from the local high school and married Bob Beldon on his return from Vietnam. The early years had been difficult because of Bob's reliance on alcohol. But then, to her eternal gratitude, he'd discovered Alcoholics Anonymous; it had saved their marriage and quite possibly Bob's life. Until AA, Bob had spent most nights drinking, by himself or with friends. When he drank, he became a different person, no longer the man she'd married. She didn't like to think about that time. Thankfully, her husband had remained sober for twenty-one years.
Walking between the rows, Peggy gently watered the seedlings. Several years earlier, Bob had accepted early retirement and with the severance package, they'd purchased the house on Cranberry Point. Peggy had loved it for as long as she could remember. Situated on a point of land overlooking Sinclair Inlet, the two-story structure, built in the late 1930s, had seemed like a mansion to her. Over the years, it had changed owners a number of times and had started to deteriorate, since no one had cared enough to provide the maintenance it needed. By straining their finances, Bob and Peggy had managed to buy it for a price far below its current market value.
Her husband was a talented handyman and within a few months they were able to hang out a sign for their Bed and Breakfast. Peggy hadn't known how much business to expect, how many guests would be attracted to the Thyme and Tide B and B, as they'd called it. She'd hoped, of course, that they'd make enough to supplement their retirement incomeand they had. She was proud of the success they'd achieved. Their traditional home, warm hospitality and her cooking had brought them steady customers and a growing reputation. They'd even been reviewed in a national magazine, which had reserved its highest praise for the food, especially her baking. The reviewer had spent two whole sentences describing her blueberry muffins and homemade fruit cobbler. She had twenty blueberry bushes and eight raspberry canes, and she pampered them lovingly. Each summer she was rewarded with an ample supply for her guests and her family. Life had seemed about as perfect as it could get.
Then the unimaginable happened.
More than a year ago, a stranger had knocked on their door in the middle of a dark, stormy night. If it hadn't been so cliched she might've been amused, but this was no laughing matter. The man had rented a room and then promptly locked himself inside.
A hundred times since, Peggy had regretted not insisting he complete the usual paperwork. It was late, and he'd seemed so tired that they'd simply shown him to his room. They could deal with the necessities in the morning, over breakfast.
But by morning, the stranger was dead.
Ever since, Peggy had felt as if they were caught in some kind of whirlwind, tossed about by forces beyond their control. Bad enough that the man had died in their home, but then they'd learned that he'd carried false identification. Nothing was as it seemed. By the end of that day, after hours with the sheriff and the coroner, there'd been more questions than answers.
She saw Bob pull the riding lawn mower out of the garage. At the sound of the engine, Peggy paused in watering her seedlings, one hand shading her eyes. Even after all these years of marriage, she never grew tired of their life together. They'd survived the bad times with their love intact. And their attraction, too. Bob was tall and had kept his shape, his sandy brown hair neatly trimmed. His arms were already tanned from exposure to the sun. He loved his workshop and she was genuinely impressed by what he could do with a few pieces of oak or pine. She'd fallen in love with Bob Beldon as a teenager and she loved him still.
Now, however, she was worried. She didn't want to think about the dead man, but it was unavoidable, especially after what they'd recently found out. Sheriff Davis had identified their mystery guest as Maxwell Russell. To say Bob was shocked would be putting it mildly. He'd been with Max in Vietnam. Dan Sherman, who was also dead, Bob, Max and another man named Stewart Samuels had belonged to that squadron. They'd gotten lost in a Southeast Asian jungle with tragic results.
Once the identity of the dead man was established, another shocking revelation had come to light. The sheriff, with the help of local private investigator Roy McAfee, had discovered that Max Russell's death was no accident.
He'd been poisoned.
The water bottle he'd carried with him had been laced with odorless, tasteless Rohypnol, commonly known as the "date rape" drug. The dose had been large enough to stop his heart. Maxwell Russell had gone to bed, tired from a long day of travel, and he never woke up.
Bob rode past her on the lawn mower with a quick wave, and Peggy continued to water her garden, but a pang went through her. At this very moment Bob could be in danger, but he seemed content to ignore any risk rather than admit her concerns were legitimate.
As she set aside the hose, Peggy caught sight of Sheriff Da-vis's patrol car coming down Cranberry Point. She immediately felt the tension between her shoulder blades. She hoped he planned to talk some sense into Bob.
Her husband must have seen the patrol car at the same time Peggy did because he cut the engine and climbed off the lawn mower. Sheriff Troy Davis turned into the driveway, then stepped out of his vehicle. In the beginning, when it looked like Bob might be a suspect in the murder case, Davis wasn't nearly as welcome here as he was now.
The sheriff, who was probably a little heavier than he should be, took a moment to hike up his pants and adjust his gun before heading across the lawn to meet Bob. Unwilling to be left out of the conversation, Peggy shut off the water and hurried across the half-mown grass.
"Peggy." Davis touched the brim of his hat and nodded in her direction. "I was just telling Bob it might be a good idea if the three of us sat down and talked."
Peggy nodded in return, appreciating the fact that he wanted to include her.
Bob led the way to the patio, and Peggy was grateful she'd taken time that morning to sweep it off. The three of them sat at the round pine table Bob had built several years earlier. He'd painted it a deep gray-blue, a color that complemented the white siding. The striped umbrella was up and the patio was awash in sunshine.
"I thought I'd update you on my conversation with Hannah Russell."
A couple of months earlier, after Max's identity had been uncovered, his daughter had asked to meet with Bob and Peggy. It had been an uncomfortable meeting, but Peggy's heart had ached for the young woman. She'd answered Hannah's questions to the best of her ability.
For her part, there was little Hannah could tell them. All she knew was what her father had told herhe was taking a short trip, although he hadn't divulged where. That was the last she'd heard. When he didn't return to California, she'd filed a missing persons report with the police. A year had passed before she learned his fate.
"I feel so bad for her," Peggy said. Hannah had lost her mother some time before and was now an orphan with no other family.
"She was pretty upset," Troy admitted. "You can imagine how painful it was to learn her father was dead. But to discover he'd been murdered
" He shook his head.
"Did she have any idea who might've done this?"
"None," Davis told them. "She asked me to thank you for your kindness. Talking with you helped her resolve in her own mind what happened to her father. Peggy, she mentioned the letter you wrote, and I could tell it meant a great deal to her."
Peggy bit her lip. "How's she getting on with her life?"
The sheriff hesitated. "I can't really say. She said she no longer has any reason to stay in California and implied that she's thinking of moving. I asked her to keep in touch and she promised she would."
Peggy could understand the young woman's feelings. With both of her parents gone, Hannah was rootless. Peggy sympathized with her desire to leave the area where she'd grown up, where she was surrounded by so many memories. Every place she turned, every place she looked, Hannah must be reminded of the parents she'd loved.
"What did you find out about Colonel Samuels?" Bob asked, eyes narrowed as he gazed at Troy Davis.
Stewart Samuels was the fourth man in Vietnam with Bob and Dan and Max. Peggy knew the sheriff had recently been in contact with him. The colonel had been cleared in Max's murder, at least as far as Davis was concerned, but her husband obviously had doubts. While Bob and the other two were eager to be discharged, back in the early seventies, Samuels had stayed in the Army and risen through the ranks.
"At this point I don't consider the colonel a suspect."
"He's some mucky-muck in Army Intelligence from what I hear," Bob muttered, as if that should be motive enough.
"Who lives in the Washington, D.C., area," Sheriff Davis stated calmly. "I've had him checked out by a number of people. He's highly respected. He's been cooperative and willing to help in any way he can. Perhaps you should talk to him yourself, Bob."
Her husband declined with a sharp shake of his head. Bob wanted as little to do with the past as possible. Coping with what had happened to Dan, who'd committed suicide, and to Max, had been hard enough. The less he had to think about the past, or its effect on the present, the better.
"Is Bob in danger?" Peggy asked bluntly. Her husband might prefer not to acknowledge the likelihood of a threat, but Peggy wanted a realistic assessment of their situation.
"I think he might be at risk," the sheriff said quietly.
It wasn't what Peggy had hoped to hear, but she was grateful for his frankness. They had to face the truth, however unpleasant, and take appropriate precautions.
"Nonsense," Bob insisted. "If anyone wanted me dead, I'd be six feet under by now."
Maybe, but Peggy wasn't willing to take chances with her husband's life.
"Why don't we arrange an extended vacation?" she suggested. It'd been years since they'd been away from the Bed and Breakfast, and they could use a break.
"For how long?" Bob asked.
"Until the case is solved," Peggy told him, pleading with her eyes. This wasn't the time to put on a brave frontnot in her opinion, anyway.
"No way." Bob's quick refusal shouldn't have come as any surprise. He'd been quite content to live in denial. Denial and featherbeds! Someone had to point out the very real possibility that he was in danger and because he was, so was she.
"I'm not leaving Cedar Cove."
"I won't let anyone or anything drive me out of my own home."
A chill shot up Peggy's spine. "But"
"No, Peg," he said, and his face hardened with resolve.
"How long are we supposed to stay away? One month? Two?" He paused. "More than that?"
It wasn't a question Troy could answer.
"Max was found dead over a year ago. I was supposedly in danger then, right?"
Sheriff Davis exchanged a concerned look with Peggy. "I understand what you're saying, but we didn't know then what we know now."
"I'm not running! I spent half my life running, and I won't do it again. If somebody wants me dead, then so be it."
"I'm sorry, honey," her husband said, stretching his arm across the table to clasp her fingers with his. "I refuse to live like that, looking over my shoulder all the time."
"Then perhaps you could compromise," Davis said. "There's no need to invite someone into your home who might want to harm you."
"What do you mean?" Bob leaned closer, his stomach pressed against the rounded edge of the pinewood table. Peggy realized that despite his defiant words he was afraid. His body language revealed what he was unwilling to admit.
"I don't know how many reservations you have for the B and B, but I'd advise you to not take any more."
"We can easily cancel the ones we have," Peggy murmured. Any number of businesses in town would welcome the additional bookings.
Bob directed his gaze at Peggy. "Would that make you more comfortable?"
She swallowed and nodded.
Bob continued to look unsure, as if even this one concession was more than he felt inclined to make.
"I've been worried ever since Jack and Olivia's wedding," she whispered.
A week earlier, Bob had stood up as Jack Griffin's best man. That was just a day or two before they'd learned Max Russell had been murdered.
"All right." Bob's voice was heavy with reluctance. "We'll cancel the reservations."
"No guests," Peggy said.
"No guests," he confirmed, "until this matter is settled once and for all."
This was going to hurt financially, but it didn't matter. What did matter was having the reassurance that her husband was safe.
"I'll do what I can to solve this quickly," Troy promised them.
Peggy could only wonder how long that would take.