Hey, Sleuthers! Today I'm sharing the first chapter of my book, Stop and Spell the Roses. It was the idea for this first chapter that got the whole series started for me... and the idea came in the form of a "what if" daydream.
What if a woman showed up for her very boring job, but was whisked away before she even made it to the door?
What if her whole life changed in the blink of an eye?
I love daydreaming, and that particular flight of fancy gave me the inspiration for my Enchanted Flower Shop cozy mystery series. Hope you enjoy this quick peek into the story....
The day started like any other. I commuted to work to the tune of the morning news—all bad. As the sun rose up over the Colorado peaks I parked amidst other beat-up cars in the lot adjacent to the highway.
Bracing against the cold I left my cocoon of a car and trudged toward the Interstate and the line of toll booths that stretched across it, one of which I planned to spend my day in.
That’s when my day turned sideways.
I turned to see a guy in a black cowboy hat striding toward me.
“You Remi?” he asked.
“How many Remi’s did you expect to find in this parking lot?”
He shrugged, gave me a half smile. It wasn’t a bad smile. “Just one, I guess.”
“Can I help you?”
“Come with me.” He opened his bulky canvas coat so I could see the gun tucked in the waistband of his jeans.
I stopped in my tracks, flicked my eyes out toward the passing traffic, and wondered if I could flag someone down for help.
“This can be real easy, or real complicated,” he said. “It’s up to you how you want to play it.” He was closer to me now and I could see his breath hanging in the cold air, too. It was October and near freezing this early in the day. He wore leather gloves and cowboy boots. Jeans. Nice face, with sharp, clear eyes and stubble along his jawline. “You’re going to turn around now and walk over to that black truck, there.” He kept the jacket slightly open so I could see the gleam of his weapon.
My heart hammered. I did what he said.
There were two others in the big pickup truck he led me to. One woman, one man. Both were dressed like they’d recently stepped off a ranch. I didn’t miss the fact that the big, top-of-the-line pickup truck had Montana plates. That was way up north, far from the outskirts of Denver where I lived and worked. These people were a long way from home.
I’d always wanted to see Montana, just never got around to it.
The man with the gun took my phone, turned it off, and put it in his back pocket. Then he told me to get into the back with the woman.
She tipped the brim of her baseball hat my way as I slid onto the seat and introduced herself as Jessie. I was so stunned I gave her my name, too, like we were carpooling to a party.
The guy in the front seat even turned and grunted out a hello. “Name’s Duke,” he said. I think he added something about how it was good to finally meet me, but I didn’t hear it over the rumble of the truck starting up.
It wasn’t ’til we were cruising down the highway that the adrenaline dump and fear subsided enough that I could appreciate one silver lining of my predicament: I’d gotten out of my eight hour work shift. Man, I hated standing in that little booth and handing out tickets, saying the same thing, over and over again until my brain felt numb.
At least today would be different. How different, I wasn’t sure.
We drove all day. Besides stops for gas, the trip was all business. No one talked. Didn’t even listen to the radio. When it started to get dark out the driver pulled over at a roadside diner. He and Duke got out and headed in for a meal, leaving me in the car with Jessie.
“Where are you taking me?” I asked as I stared out at the unfamiliar parking lot. “I think I saw the Montana state welcome sign back a ways.”
“Caden didn’t tell you?”
Caden must be the man driving, I realized. The one with the gun. “He didn’t tell me anything,” I grumbled. “Just showed me that gun of his and told me to cooperate. This is against the law, you know.”
“You’ll learn laws don’t mean nothing where we’re going.” She looked out the window. “They should be back soon with some food. This place says they do breakfast all day. Did you see the sign? I hope Duke gets me a stack of pancakes. He knows that’s my favorite.”
“You’re all in on this,” I said. “You all could go to jail for a long, long time.”
“Why are you so upset? Caden said you’d be happy for us to come and get you. He said you’d want to leave.”
“He said that? What do you all know about me? You don’t know anything.”
“Caden said you worked all the time. All day, every day. Two jobs. Toll booth and then caretaking for some grump who yells at you when you bring him his medicine.”
“Yeah, well, it’s only temporary. Things are going to get better.”
“Sure, now things will. You might like the ranch. I do.”
I crossed my arms and eyed her. “What if I get out of this truck right now?”
“Caden won’t be happy. Neither will Jasper. I recommend you stay.”
She pinched her lips closed and looked toward the diner. “I hope Duke remembers to get syrup.”
“Why me?” I asked.
“You don’t know?”
“I told you, I don’t know anything except that I’ve been kidnapped.”
She didn’t get to finish, because at that moment the man with the gun, Caden, opened up the driver’s door and slid into his seat. Duke got into the passenger seat, working a mint toothpick between his teeth. He handed back a styrofoam box to Jessie. “Got you the buttermilk flapjacks.”
“Thanks. Can’t beat breakfast foods for dinner,” Jessie said, as she flipped the box open.
I almost started drooling as I looked over at her food.
“Hungry?” Caden asked me, his voice deep and sad like he had a heavy heart. He held out a box to me.
I didn’t answer, but when I opened the box and found a pile of fluffy scrambled eggs, strips of bacon, and two biscuits covered in gravy, I dug right in.
It was late when we finally reached the ranch; a few hours after dark. Caden steered under a sign so big it must have cost thousands of dollars. The name blazed across the center when his headlights hit it: Lanrete Ranch.
The private road from there was at least two or three miles long; I lost track of all the twists and turns as we wound our way through towering trees, past vast vistas of dark hills. Rocky, moonlit peaks lined the horizon.
The ranch consisted of a huge log cabin style mansion, a red barn the size of a museum, and more out buildings than I could count. Everything lined up against a backdrop of stars so numerous and stunning that it was hard to believe I’d lived under the same sky all my life. It looked different out here. A million times prettier.
“This looks more like a town than a ranch,” I said, as I looked out through the truck window at the many buildings.
“We’re like a town,” Caden said, twisting his head so he could glance back at me. He rolled to a stop in front of a row of outbuildings. “We’re a closed system, Remi. And you work here, now.”
“I don’t work anywhere except the Denver I-70 Toll Booth,” I told him. That was a lie. “And for Mr. Pibbles. Someone’s got to give him his pills.”
“We told that old man you quit. He’ll hire someone else to boss around,” Caden said. “And that toll booth is going to be fine without you, believe me. Welcome to your new life.” He handed me my cell phone.
I wanted to give a retort—something about how he’d committed a major felony the minute he threatened me with the gun—but I bit my tongue. The man was delusional if he thought I’d just stay here.
Sick in the head. Insane.
That was all I could figure.
He’d kidnapped me plain and simple, he and his crew, and he thought he could get away with it? I pocketed my phone. He’d made a mistake, giving it back to me. The minute I was free of these people for two minutes I’d call the police and that would be that.
I followed him down the shadowy lane, past the dark silhouette of a picket fence. The night air smelled clean, like grass and hay. Not at all like the city smog I was used to breathing. The display of stars took my breath away. I could even see the Milky Way trailing across it like a river of diamonds.
“Is this a real, working ranch?” I asked.
“What gave it away?” Caden asked sarcastically.
“For starters, the sign. What’d it say? Lan… Lan something. Lanrete.”
He nodded. “That’s good. We know you can read.”
“Ha ha. Do you work here?”
His boots scuffed gravel as he walked. “This way.”
The others, Duke and Jessie, had headed off in a different direction. It was just me and Caden, now.
The dirt driveway wrapped around the barn. I saw even more buildings, about a half-dozen of them. They were lined up on either side of the dirt lane, sort of like a small main street. All the buildings looked similar: two-stories tall, rectangular, simple buildings with shallow front porches. We passed one that had a row of four rocking chairs on the front porch.
Caden stopped in front of the next building, and put his hand on the railing that led up the few stairs to the porch. This porch didn’t have any rocking chairs. It was empty except for a few pots of wilted flowers.
The glass windows and glass-paneled front door with a ‘closed’ sign hanging in it made the place look like a general store. A sign in one of the windows blinked on as I looked. I caught the word “flower shop” and another word so fuzzy I couldn’t make it out. When I tried to look closer at the shimmery letters on the sign they faded away. All I saw was the window, and the shelves on display inside, stocked with flowers in pots.
There sure were lots of them, all wilted and withered.
“Hoping you have a green thumb,” Caden said. He walked up the steps and across the porch. The floorboards creaked under his weight. He pulled open the door and held it wide.
“What?” I asked.
“In there? Into this flower shop… in the middle of a…” I turned side to side, eyeing the strange setting and the empty dirt lane, “… cattle ranch? At nine o’clock at night? This is too weird. I’m not going in.”
He sighed. “Do I really have to do this?”
I crossed my arms over my chest.
He lifted his jacket, showed me the gun in the moonlight. His eyes rested heavy on me, judging my reaction.
Even though he looked sort of half-hearted about the threat, seeing the weapon did the trick—again. I hurried up to the porch and then crossed the threshold of the shop.
Caden remained in the doorway. “I’ll let my father know you’re here. He’s gonna want to meet you.”
Everywhere I looked I saw debris, dust, and dying plants.
“Work starts early, here on the ranch,” Caden went on. “He’ll probably swing by in the morning. Maybe you’ll have this place cleaned up before he checks in on you.” With that he turned on his heel and left.
I waved a hand to clear some of the dust away so I could take a breath. “He can come by if he wants,” I muttered to myself. “It’s not like I’m going to be here.”
Then I took out my phone, my mind already on how I’d describe my captor to the police.
I hope that you enjoyed this sneak peek into Stop and Spell the Roses! It's the first book in my Enchanted Flower Shop Cozy Mystery series, and I wanted to start it out with a bang. I loved turning Remi's humdrum life upside down, right off the bat:)
If you want to find out what happens next for Remi, grab the book on Amazon. The three-book series is now complete.
I loved writing them, and hope you'll be entertained as you follow clues and have adventures on the ranch. What's your impression of Caden? Like him, or not? Let me know in the comments section below. Can't wait to hear from you!
Amorette Anderson writes warm-hearted cozy mysteries that star witchy characters. She lives in Colorado with her husband and furbabies, pups Marley and Teddy. When she’s not writing or reading she’s dreaming up ways to make life a little more magical.