Anniversary excerpt: Gardening and Death, what a pair

The first book in the Deadly Landscaping series released on this day last year. Gardening and murder, what a combination! From Lilacs, Litigation and Lethal Love Affairs....

Cassie Whittington, a 50-something ex-IT professional, is finishing a college degree in horticulture when she finds a body in the greenhouse, her new boss is suspected of the crime, her ex-husband Charlie wants back in her life, and she inherits a few million dollars. Her life is taking twists and turns she never could have imagined!

I looked up, belatedly realizing some words were being spoken. The lawyer droned through a series of bequests to friends then she came to the family, her eyes darting from Livvie to John to Becky. When her gaze came to Charlie, it lingered slightly and I hid a smile. Many women had that reaction to Charlie.

“To my granddaughter, Olivia Whittington Carlyle, I leave my collections of china and crystal so she might have a suitable means to entertain her friends.”

Livvie smiled and raised her martini glass. “Thank you, Grandy. I appreciate it.” I think she was even sincere.

“To my granddaughter, Rebecca Whittington Stark, I leave my diaries and scrapbooks which chronicle several of the disappointments I’ve endured in my life. I hope she will learn from them.”

Becky appeared faintly amused but her husband looked put out, as though he’d expected something more substantial from the old lady. I suppose whenever a rich person died, the vultures all started circling.

“...grandson, John, I leave my shares in his design company, which I purchased years ago to assist him in getting his start in business.”

I hid a smile. The shares were next to useless because John owned the majority of the stock in the company. I suppose it was nice he would have 99.9% of the stock, though. A look at his face told me he, like Becky’s husband, expected far more from this day and from the old lady who died.

The lawyer cleared her throat. “To my beloved grandson, Charles, I leave two of my prized collections: the one of Hummel figurines and the other, my collection of software stock.” She raised her eyes from the paper and looked at Charlie, two bright spots of pink color standing out on her pale cheeks.

There was a silence in the room then the import of the words soaked in. “Stock?” John demanded.

The lawyer looked at him, her eyes cool and distant behind her businesslike dark-rimmed glasses. “Mrs. Penningford had an impressive portfolio.” Then she smiled at Charlie, giving him a look of conspiratorial mischief that made me grin. The look vanished almost instantly behind a brisk fa├žade.

Charlie squeezed my shoulder. “I always told her the future was in technology. I guess she listened to me.”

The lawyer looked at his hand on my shoulder and her face seemed to flatten, her faintly Asian features stiffening. She nodded briskly, her eyes going back to the papers she held. “Your grandmother had a nice portfolio with Microsoft, Intel, Oracle, and Nintendo, some of which have had stock splits over the years.”

John looked like he was struggling not to scream. I peered up at Charlie. “Nice to know she took your advice.”

“And to my granddaughter-by-proxy, Cassandra Roberta Wheelock Whittington, I leave the balance of my estate, including my homes in Shorewood, Minnesota and Naples, Florida as well as the cabin on Lake Vermillion in Northern Minnesota. Cassie’s friendship has been a constant joy in my life for almost fifty years, since she came to live with us as a small child. I always enjoyed our Saturday afternoon tea, which she never missed regardless of how busy she was. I’ve valued her love and her friendship deeply. As a provision of this bequest, I ask that Cassie allow Betty Burke to remain in the home in Shorewood as long as Betty so desires and if Betty chooses to leave, that Cassie sees to it Betty is provided with a proper home and retirement income.”

I turned my head slowly to stare at the lawyer, my jaw sagging open. “What?”

“What?” John’s shout was certainly louder than my whisper.

Livvie started to laugh, the giggle soon turning into a guffaw. After a second Becky joined in. Charlie was grinning and I knew he wished he could join his sisters.

I looked around the room, my eyes huge. Betty smiled and Charlie's father looked bemused. “That’s not right,” I said weakly. “There must be a lot of money there. I mean, it’s not right. I’m not her family or—”

“The estate was probated at approximately fifteen million dollars.” The lawyer smiled briefly at me then looked at Charlie. Some message passed between them then she looked at me again. “Of course, we’ll need to deduct the items she left to other family members. And the real estate isn’t included in the estimation because of market fluctuations and...”

I didn’t hear the rest. Grandy Theo left me fifteen million dollars? My ears were buzzing and I was dizzy, the room spinning around me.

Charlie leaned over. “I think you can afford to buy that Jaguar now.”

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