Colton's Deadly Engagement
“No, Chief. I do. And the endless piles of hair a dog sheds.” She turned toward the kitchen. “Can I get you a cup of coffee?”
“That’d be nice.”
Finn followed Darby into the back of the house, smiling when the purported mess maker—a German shepherd with the same coloring as Lotte—came through a doggie door and trotted toward him. He extended his hand, keeping an easy smile on his face. “Hey there, girl.”
The dog slowed but continued forward, her tail wagging gently.
Finn kept his hand extended, pleased when she allowed him to pet her head. “Hi, sweetheart. What’s your name?”
“This is Penny.” The slightest grimace crossed Darby’s face before she shot an indulgent smile at the dog. “She sure seems to like you.”
He dropped to a knee and continued to level praise and affection on the dog. “Why do I sense that irritates you?”
“Let’s just say Penny and I have come to a grudging truce since I moved in.”
“I keep trying and Penny keeps her distance.”
Finn stood to his full height. “She’s a good girl. She’s just had a lot of upheaval lately. Bo loved this dog.”
“That he did. Which is why, when I was married to Bo, Penny and I had a reluctant truce, as well.”
“She didn’t like another woman in her territory?”
He saw the moment the idea struck, Darby’s eyes widening. “I never thought about it that way, but I guess I can see that.”
Finn had spent enough time with Lotte to know that she was deeply protective of him. And while that hadn’t extended to the women he dated—mostly because Finn made a solid point not to bring them around his partner—he knew it was something he’d likely deal with should he ever get back in deep enough in a relationship.
An image of Lotte meeting Darby struck him, the thought out of place for the job he was there to do. He needed to talk to Darby Gage about her potential involvement in a murder, not imagine her making friends with his dog.
So why had the image struck?
Darby handed over a mug, oblivious to his wayward thoughts. “What would you like in your coffee? I have cream, milk and sugar.”
“Cream would be fine.”
She retrieved the small carton from the fridge and handed it over.
Penny watched her before backing away to take a seat beneath the kitchen table.
“Yep.” Darby nodded as he handed back the carton. “She hates me.”
“She’s just trying to get used to you. Give her some time.”
Finn took a sip of his coffee and gestured to the table. “Mind if I take a seat?”
She fixed her own mug and took a seat opposite him.
“Do you know Michael Hayden?”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t,” Darby said. “But I’ve had several calls this morning telling me something terrible has happened to him.”
“You could say that.”
“Was he murdered like Bo?”
“It appears so.”
She shook her head. “What makes people do such horrible things? I know Bo had his shortcomings, but to hurt him like that? It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Something weird bottomed in his stomach, fluttering beneath the caffeine hit, and Finn had to admit that he wanted to believe her. More than that, the sincerity in her eyes seemed legitimate. He had significant experience reading people—the wacky branches of his family ensured he had to be constantly on his toes—and he’d only further honed that skill with his job in law enforcement.
But the desire to believe her didn’t change the fact that her alibi on record was a bit weak for the night of Bo’s death. Nor did it keep him from having to ask where she was yesterday when Michael Hayden was murdered.
“Murder makes little sense.”
“And here in Red Ridge, of all places. I know people deal with this in large cities. But here?” She shuddered. “It doesn’t seem possible.”
The fact that she still hadn’t tracked to his line of thought was another checkmark in her favor, but none of it changed the point that she was one of the few who’d gained with Bo Gage’s murder. “You’ve benefitted from Bo’s death.”
The distracted blue gaze, focused on the small circles she drew around the lip of her mug, snapped to attention, fire heating their depths. “This again?”
There she was. Defensive. Because she was guilty?
“This house. His business. Penny.” Finn listed them all. “You’re the one who profited by Bo’s death.”
“I was interrogated by your detective after the reading of Bo’s will. I did not kill my ex-husband. But is that what you are suggesting, Chief Colton?”
“I’m just asking questions.”
“No, you’re not.” She settled her mug on the table, her gaze direct when she next looked at him. “So I’d like to know if I’m a suspect before I ask you to leave.”
* * *
Darby fought the waves of nerves that mixed her few sips of coffee into a dark sloshy brew in her stomach. Even with the subtle feeling that she was going to be sick, she refused to stand down.
How dare he come to her home and ask her questions like this?
She wasn’t a murderer. More than that, she’d been so busy since Bo’s death, she’d barely kept her head above water. What did he possibly think she was about?
Unbidden, images of the past few weeks’ front pages of the Red Ridge Gazette filled her mind’s eye.