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Pretty Poison (Peggy Lee Garden Series #1)
     

Pretty Poison (Peggy Lee Garden Series #1)

4.0 10
by Joyce Lavene, Jim Lavene
 

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Meet Peggy Lee: botanist, detective’s widow, and owner of The Potting Shed, an urban gardener’s paradise in downtown Charlotte.  Mild winters keep the store thriving all year round, but at least one person in the city has colder intentions.
 
It’s another busy fall day for Peggy.  First she gives a quick

Overview

Meet Peggy Lee: botanist, detective’s widow, and owner of The Potting Shed, an urban gardener’s paradise in downtown Charlotte.  Mild winters keep the store thriving all year round, but at least one person in the city has colder intentions.
 
It’s another busy fall day for Peggy.  First she gives a quick café lecture on African violets, then has a minor bike accident involving a good-looking Saturn driver…and finally reaches her shop only to find a dead man sprawled face down across one of her seasonal displays, apparently done to death with a garden shovel.
 
He’s Mark Warner, one of the wealthiest men in town—and also one of the biggest philanderers. The police have a local homeless man pinned for the suspect, but Peggy has her doubts.  Soon her efforts to exonerate him have her raking through the evidence and digging up secrets—and somebody’s not happy about it. 
 
And then there’s the enormous Great Dane who seems determined to adopt her—and Peggy doesn’t even like dogs. Good thing that Saturn driver is also a veterinarian…
 
Gardening Tips Included!

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101010518
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/03/2005
Series:
Peggy Lee Garden Series , #1
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
272
Sales rank:
117,940
File size:
340 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

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Table of Contents

 

Title Page

Copyright Page

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

 

Peggy’s Garden Journal

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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Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

 

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.

 

PRETTY POISON

 

A Berkley Prime Crime Book/published by arrangement with the authors

 

PRINTING HISTORY
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / May 2005

 

Copyright © 2005 by Joyce and Jim Lavene.

 

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the authors’ rights. Purchase only authorized editions. For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

 

eISBN : 978-1-101-01051-8

 

BERKLEY PRIME CRIME®
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.
BERKLEY PRIME CRIME is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
The Berkley Prime Crime design is a trademark belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

 

 

 

1

Anemone

Botanical: Anemone nemorosa
Family: N.O. Ranunculaceae
Common names: Windflower, wood anemone

Anemone is originally derived from the Greek word ánemos, 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, she 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.”

“If I can’t get there myself, I’ll send someone else out.” Peggy took her appointment book out of her bag and flipped through the pages. “When would be good for you?”

“Anytime really,” Claire said. “Well, anytime in the next week. Kevin’s out of town until then. He doesn’t care much for dirt being all over. I try to do big projects while he’s gone.”

“How about day after tomorrow?”

“That would be great! Thanks!”

Peggy started toward the door that led into Brevard Court, anxious to open her shop. The autumn morning was gorgeous, with wreaths of mist hanging in the trees. After a hot, dry summer of milky skies and heat lightning, the bright blue Carolina sky was a blessing. The sun was warm despite the chill of November. It was a wonderful ride . . . until she ran into the Saturn.

Even then, she couldn’t complain. Nothing really happened. Except she found out her heart could still race a little when she was talking to an attractive man. That was more of a surprise than running into the side of his car. Her husband, John, had only been dead two years. She never expected to consider a man as anything more than a friend for the rest of her life.

She shuffled her keys, looking for the right one that would open the door. Good smells were already emanating from Anthony’s Caribbean Café and China King restaurant. Across the way, the Carolina Expert Tailor shop was busy, and a woman in a tight red business suit was smoking a cigarette outside of Cookie’s Travel Experts.

Brevard Court was built at the doorway to Latta Arcade. Like a turn-of-the-century mini-mall, the shops continued along the inside arcade in the restored 1915 office building. The antique light fixtures and parallel rows of shop fronts created the feeling of walking into the past. The overhead skylight, which was part of the original architecture, kept shoppers dry. Its original purpose was to provide natural light for cotton buyers to inspect their goods.

The rent was a little steep, but Peggy loved the look and feel of the place. The Potting Shed had real heart-of-pine floors that squeaked when she walked across them. It wasn’t huge, but it had a nice-sized warehouse space in the back to keep shovels, potting soil, and other essential items. She did a brisk business, even in the winter. Charlotteans were avid gardeners all year long.

One of the students who worked for her created a beautiful banner for the big storefront window. Red tulips linked to yellow marigolds. Purple hyacinths entwined with pink carnations. It made her think of spring when she saw it.

Her shop was the realization of a dream Peggy and John Lee had shared. An urban gardener’s paradise. They saved money religiously toward it for ten years. It was going to be their retirement. They both loved plants and gardening.

Peggy was the daughter of a South Carolina gentleman farmer. She grew up walking barefoot through cornfields and soybeans in the rich coastal soil. She loved to help out with planting and harvesting. Her career as a botanist was a natural extension of her love of plants. She taught classes at Queens University for twenty years before retiring when she was fifty. She went back to teaching part-time to help offset expenses with the Potting Shed.

John called working in the yard his getaway. He came home, put his hands in the dirt, and forgot everything he’d seen and heard on the streets of Charlotte. He was amazing with trees and shrubs. He had azalea flowers the size of grapefruit. All of their neighbors were envious.

He was a police detective for twenty years. Walked a beat for ten years before that. Then he answered a late-night domestic dispute call that ended in violence. It would be two years in December since he was shot and killed on the sidewalk outside a south Charlotte house. The husband killed his wife as well as John Lee. He fled the scene and was never found.

When John died, Peggy took all the money they’d saved plus his pension fund and opened the shop. Her accountant almost had a heart attack. But there was prime space in the downtown area available. She’d wasted enough time.

Business was slow at first. There were times she was afraid she was going to lose everything. But the idea caught on as more people began to inhabit the expensive condominiums and apartments being built. Charlotte’s inner city was coming alive, and Peggy’s garden shop was part of it.

Humming to herself, Peggy took off her purple cape as she walked in the door and tossed her hat behind the counter.

Traffic was light on Thursdays anyway. Things would pick up around lunchtime when the personal assistants and office managers came out of the uptown buildings. They loved to eat lunch in the courtyard outside her windows where benches and wrought-iron tables and chairs were set. Then they wandered through the shops.

She switched on the lights and set up the cash register for the day. She was having some trouble with the computer she used for ordering unusual plants and supplies for her customers. But a good swat on the case set that right. The store was ready for the fall planting season but gearing up toward the winter months when most outside work was maintenance. Her seed catalogs were beginning to arrive to fill everyone’s mind with visions of color for spring.

She looked around the shop. Everything was set up for her first customer. Except for the garden spade in the middle of the floor. Peggy glanced at her watch and wondered how late Selena was going to be as she walked around the counter to pick it up.

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 emotions 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.

She wanted to look away. She had her cell phone open but couldn’t get her fingers to press the buttons. The terrible picture mesmerized her. She felt like one of those people she yelled at who gawked at car accidents. She knew what she should do, but the connection between logic and motor function failed her.

The man could be a homeless person. Despite the best efforts of the real estate management group who owned Brevard Court, there were usually one or two of them hanging around. Although his clothes seemed too clean and his trousers had a sharp crease down the legs. There was also the little question of how he came to be in her shop.

The courtyard door was locked when she came in. She locked it after the last customer left yesterday. He didn’t come in that way without a key. The only other way in was through the back loading door. She wanted to check it. But she couldn’t get her feet to move any more than she was able to dial 911.

He might just be unconscious. Peggy really wanted to think that was the case. There was only one way to tell.

She stepped carefully around the man on the floor until she could reach down and touch his neck. There was no pulse. He was as cold as last winter. There was some dried blood on his white shirt collar. It spread down his back to darken his suit coat and reached up into his hairline. There was a thin trickle of it on his right ear. Blood had pooled on the floor around him.

He definitely wasn’t one of the college students who worked for her. She couldn’t tell who he was with his face buried in the basket. And she knew better than to move him. How many times had John come home complaining about a disturbed crime scene?

But she couldn’t help noticing some of the same details John used to tell her after coming home from a call at three A.M. Caucasian man. Probably about six feet tall. Fairly athletic build. Light brown hair. She couldn’t tell the color of his eyes, and there were no visible scars. At least not from her perspective. There was a white mark on his outstretched wrist that looked like he was used to wearing a watch. His nails were manicured.

She stopped cataloging his vitals when her gaze reached his feet. He was wearing black nylon socks but no shoes. She glanced around the area. There was no sign of them. She heard a key rattle in the back door. It was locked, too. Not sure what to expect, her hand reached out for one of the rakes in the display.

“Morning, Peggy! How’s busi—geez! What happened?”

Peggy looked up at her assistant. “I’m afraid he’s dead. Don’t touch anything.”

Selena Rogers remained where she was, horror-stricken by the sight of the body. “How do you know he’s dead? Maybe he’s asleep.”

“I touched him. He’s stiff and cold. He’s not ever getting up again.”

Big blue eyes widened even further. “What happened?”

“I don’t know. There’s some blood. I don’t think he died from natural causes.”

“Did you kill him?”

“Of course not! Don’t be silly! I don’t even know who he is!” Peggy carefully stepped back around the body. Her hands were shaking, but she forced them to punch in 911. She turned away from the dead man. Selena’s entrance broke the spell. She was glad to be able to function again.

“Was he killed right there, looking at the bulbs?”

“I don’t know. He was dead when I got here.” The emergency operator came on the line. Peggy told her what happened and her address. She closed the phone and sank down on the nearby garden bench. Her knees were a little weak, and she was light-headed. She despised those ridiculous women who fainted at the sight of blood and wasn’t about to become one of them. “You might as well sit down, Selena. This could take a while.”

It only took the Charlotte police department about a minute and a half to get a squad car to Brevard Court. An ambulance was there soon after. Peggy opened the door for them, then stepped aside.

The uniformed officer took a cursory look around the shop. He didn’t seem particularly upset when he saw the man on the floor. He took out a small notebook and pen. “Are you the one who found the body?”

She looked at his name tag. “Yes I am, Officer Kopacka. This is my shop.”

“Your name?”

“Peggy Lee.”

He looked up. “Didn’t you used to be a singer?”

“No.” Like no one ever asked her that question. “That was someone else.”

He asked her a series of rapid-fire questions. She answered as well as she could. When it came to the shovel, she admitted that she disturbed the evidence. “I didn’t know at the time that it was evidence. It was just in the way.”

“And what makes you think the shovel is evidence now?”

She shrugged. “The blood on the edge?”

He looked skeptical. “And you’ve never seen this man before?”

“Maybe. It’s difficult to tell, since I can’t see his face.”

He scribbled down her answers, then addressed Selena. “What about you?”

“Me? I just got here. Peggy was standing over him when I walked in. I don’t know what happened.”

He looked back at Peggy.

“Hey, Kyle,” his partner called, “you better come and take a look at this.”

“Stay right here, both of you. I have more questions.”

“I have plants to run over to Wachovia,” Selena said. “Then I have class at noon.”

“Not today. Even if you didn’t see what happened, we still need your statement.”

Peggy put her arm around Selena’s shoulders. “Don’t worry. It’ll take a while to clear this up, but everything will be fine. I’ll call Liz at Wachovia and postpone. You should be able to get out of here in time for class.”

“Thanks.” Selena shivered when she looked back at the dead man. “What do you think happened? If you just got here, too, how did he get into the shop?”

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Pretty Poison (Peggy Lee Garden Series #1) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
jms41 More than 1 year ago
This book attracted me to the cover. I loved it. It was most attractive. I was looking for a good mystery and found it, The background of plants made it that much more interesting and teh characters were quite real. I would definitely read more by the Lavenes.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Peggy Lee, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a widow and a botanist who teaches part time at Queens College and owns the Potting Shed. One fall day her bicycle bumps into Steve¿s car, Saturn Vue, she adopts a dog the size of a small horse and she finds the body of a dead man in the warehouse space in the back of her store. His head was bashed in by a shovel and when the police are called, another shop owner tells them about the homeless man who hangs around the mall.--- Peggy has befriended the man, giving him food and money and doesn¿t think he could have killed anyone. When the homeless man Mr. Cleever is arrested they find the victim¿s wallet and shoes in his possession. One of Peggy¿s clerks, Keely Prinz was having an affair with the victim who was a married man. She was pregnant with his child and also had a motive to kill him. If Peggy finds evidence that will free Mr. Cleever, suspicion will fall on Keely. Peggy with the help of Steve who makes his interest in her plain, decades to investigate so that both suspects will be cleared of all suspicions.--- Joyce and Jim Lavene have written a fantastic amateur sleuth mystery where the protagonist goes to outrageous lengths to prove the two suspects innocent. Peggy proves life can be rich and rewarding after fifty and the beginning of a romance with a sexy younger man adds an extra ingredient to a charming story. This mystery will appeal to men and women of all ages as PRETTY POISON is a great tale.--- Harriet Klausner
sd97 More than 1 year ago
Love the series. Very far fetched and some of the characters seem angry for no reason. But I care about the main characters and can't wait to see what Peggy gets into next
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Peggy Lee (not the singer) just naturally gets involved in solving crimes. She is environmentally conscious & rides her bike whenever possible, thus meeting an interesting new man. The characters are natural & believable. There is humor along with the serious business of being a widow & solving mysteries. I read the first 4 books in the series non stop. I love Joyce & Jim Lavene & have read their Renaissance Faire & OBX series also.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written and great twists along the way.
molly longhofer More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago