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The Detective Wins The Witch (Nocturne Falls Book 10) by Kristen Painter (1)




One more sunflower.

Marigold Williams finished the arrangement she was creating by adding the last bloom, then stood back to admire her work. The happy bouquet sported a mix of hot pinks, bright yellows, and vivid oranges.

Hmm. One of the roses wasn’t quite as open as the others.

She cupped the flower in her hand and pushed a little magic into it. The petals opened wider, matching the rest in the bouquet. “Better.”

She twisted the vase the arrangement was in to see all sides of it. “What do you think, Frank the Tank?”

Frank, Marigold’s newly adopted shop cat, didn’t react from his perch on the counter. He just sat there, sleepily blinking his wise, gold eyes.

Marigold didn’t take the lack of comment personally. Frank’s job had more to do with keeping the shop rodent-free than it did critiquing her arrangements. So far, the burly black feline was doing a good job of it, too.

Also, Marigold already knew that Birdie Caruthers, the recipient, was going to love the bouquet.

The man paying for the flowers, Jack Van Zant, was sure to enjoy Birdie’s appreciation, as well. He’d been sending her flowers once or twice a month now. Mostly with little notes on the cards that said things like, “No reason is reason enough” and “Thought of you, hope these make you smile.”

Theirs was an adorable courtship that had the whole town of Nocturne Falls smiling.

Marigold sighed and scratched Frank’s head. “Maybe not the whole town, huh, Frank?” Because while she was truly happy for Birdie, she was also, down deep in her heart of hearts, a little sad that Birdie had found happiness while she had not. Marigold felt utterly ridiculous about it, and a little embarrassed, but the truth was what it was.

She rolled her eyes at herself. “I’m clearly a horrible person. I love Birdie. It’s not her fault I’m single. Right?”

Frank lay down on the counter, curled himself into a loaf, and drifted off.

“Thanks for your input.” She frowned at him. “Also, I’m not sure sleeping is much of a mouse-deterrent there, buddy.”

He answered with a sound that was half grunt, half snore.

With a little laugh, she added the card to the clear plastic pick and fixed it in the middle of the flowers. But her mind returned to matters of the heart. Hers, and everyone else’s.

Nocturne Falls was chock full of people in love or falling in love. And people getting married. She knew that part very well, because she was usually the florist who provided the flowers. Which was great. She loved the business, loved the enthusiasm of the brides, and really enjoyed helping turn their dreams into reality.

But it was hard to do sometimes, because it made her that much more aware of how stuck she was in Singletown.

Being single kind of sucked. But being a single mom wasn’t anything Marigold would change for the world—she loved her daughter, Saffron, with the ferocity of a thousand shining suns. And the fact that her ex had walked away from Marigold when she’d told him she was pregnant only meant he was never the right man for Saffie to call Father.

But would a date now and then—especially one for Pandora’s wedding—be so much to ask?

Apparently.

She put Birdie’s bouquet in the fridge. She’d probably have Leah, her one employee besides Joe, her delivery guy, take it down to the station when Leah came in at ten. It was a quick trip, and Leah liked doing the occasional small delivery.

Marigold checked her to-do list. She had her sister Pandora Williams and their mutual good friend Willa Iscove both coming in today to finalize their wedding flowers.

Marigold smiled, although she didn’t feel it as much as she wanted to. She really loved doing weddings and loved the business they generated, not to mention these ladies were both very important to her, but at the moment it just seemed to underline the melancholy she was feeling.

Or were their impending weddings why she was feeling this way?

Or maybe her melancholy was because she’d had a look at her bank account this morning. Had anyone ever gotten rich being a florist? She doubted it.

Of course, she wasn’t in this for the money. She loved flowers and plants, and loved being able to bring happiness into other people’s lives with her creations. And this really was the best job for her. One where she could use her magic to make her work stand out.

Still, it was a good thing the orthodontist took payments. Saffie’s braces were not going to be cheap. Then there were her soccer fees (and the upcoming soccer camp) and the cost of her school uniforms, plus the screen porch really needed rescreening, and Marigold’s car was making a funny sound.

She could probably get Cole, Pandora’s very handy fiancé and Marigold’s soon-to-be brother-in-law, to handle the porch, but she didn’t know any mechanics.

She paused and inhaled all the green life around her, finding her center. Then she reminded herself that being around all the flowers and plants wasn’t just the perfect job for a green witch like herself, it was the only job. At least, the only one she’d ever wanted.

“I’ve got to snap out of this, Frank.” Maybe she needed a little more of the ginger-carrot-kale juice she’d whipped up for breakfast to really shake this funk and focus on the work at hand. She had some left in the fridge in her office, which wasn’t an office so much as it was the back half of the store. It served as their work space, flower storage area, and Frank’s multipurpose room.

His litter box was tucked in the corner on the wall where the big coolers were, but his food and water bowls were beside one of the workbenches on the opposite wall.

The center of the room held two large workbenches where the general construction of arrangements was done, then there was a small desk on the wall opposite the coolers that usually had her laptop on it. The workbenches were usually where she and Leah ate their lunch. Joe joined them sometimes, if he was in between deliveries.

When she was alone in the shop, however, she usually did her arranging on the front counter, where she could keep an eye on the store until Leah came in. The wall behind the counter held a smaller, glass-front cooler with ready-made arrangements and a few buckets of the cheap and cheerful stuff people expected to see when they came into a flower shop.

The bell over the front door jangled, so she turned her head to greet the customer. Her mouth bent in an easy smile when she saw who it was. “Good morning, Mr. Mathers.”

The old man shuffled in. “Now, Marigold, I told you to call me Newt. All my friends do, and I’d like to think at my age I could consider a pretty young girl like you a friend.”

She laughed. “I’m not that young or pretty, but I’ll take the compliment. Newt.”

Newton Mathers was a frequent visitor to Nocturne Falls, and a minor wizard, which meant he wasn’t all that naturally gifted but more a student of the arts. He had some inborn talent, but much of it was learned. No harm in that. Some witches were the same way.

“You are both, my dear.” He shook a gnarled finger at her. “Never argue with your elders.”

When Newt was in town, he stopped by every morning to buy a flower for his lapel. It was such an old-fashioned but charming thing to do. But then, he was a rather charming gentleman.

“Well, thank you very much.” She wasn’t a complete hosebeast in the looks department, but Pandora and their other sister, Charisma, had gotten the lion’s share of beauty. Pandora had gotten the extrovert vibe, too, while Charisma was loaded with ambition.

Marigold had gotten the…okay, she wasn’t entirely sure what she’d gotten. She was a single mother, for crying out loud. Who could think about their best qualities when they were trying to raise a child who was only two years away from coming into her witchy powers, run a business, and keep their house from looking like they’d been fighting off poltergeists?

Motherhood was not for the fainthearted.

“You’re very welcome.” He peered at the cold case behind her. “I believe I’ll have a carnation today. A red one.”

“How very jaunty. I’ll get that made right up for you.” She selected the prettiest red carnation, trimmed it, and handed it over. “There you go.”

He admired the flower, then tucked it into the button hole on his lapel. “Just lovely. How much do I owe you?”

“Two dollars.”

He shook his head. “My dear, you are never going to make a living selling things so inexpensively.”

“It’s not like I had to do anything to it but cut it down to size.” She grinned. He always complained her prices were too low. But today she could kind of see his point. “Would you like a Casablanca lily for eight bucks instead?”

“That might be rather ostentatious with my linen suit, don’t you think? It’s not as though I’m summering in Singapore.”

He sometimes said things she didn’t always get, but she nodded anyway. “I agree. Best stick with the carnation for today.”

He handed her two crisp one-dollar bills. “Thank you very much. I shall see you tomorrow. Have a lovely day, Marigold.”

“You too, Newt.”

As he left, she went back to work organizing the wedding look books she’d put together for Pandora and Willa. The books started out as mostly pictures of flowers, ideas for how those flowers could be displayed, some color swatches, and rough estimates based on certain flower types.

At this stage, with both weddings only weeks away, the books were blueprints for the floral builds. Inventory sheets, sketches, numbers of bridesmaid bouquets, boutonnieres, centerpieces, estimated times, placement of swags, any large builds that needed to be done…the books had it all. She lived and died by the books when it came to wedding prep.

Which was why she did them for every bride, but with Pandora’s and Willa’s books, she definitely put in some extra time and effort.

And why wouldn’t she? Willa was a good friend and basically fae royalty, even if she had abdicated the throne. And beloved Pandora was Marigold’s sister. She wasn’t about to scrimp on either one.

Right now, she was glad she’d made the books so detailed. That meant nothing would be missed. Everything would be perfect for these two very special women.

Just like it would be for Marigold’s own wedding. Someday.

Maybe.



Wyatt West slumped down in the seat of his rented SUV and held his phone in front of his face like he was engaged in something very important. Which he was. Surveillance on the auction house across the street. He just hadn’t seen anything worthwhile, yet.

Suzanne Anderson, his client, had hired him to track down and recover a very valuable pair of candlesticks. She’d said they’d been in her family for nearly a century until they’d been accidentally sold in her late aunt’s estate sale.

Now it was his job to get them back before another family member did, something Suzanne had warned him was a very real possibility.

Granted, hunting down family heirlooms wasn’t the most exciting work he’d done since becoming a private detective, but it paid the bills. And it wasn’t another cheating-spouse case that had him peeping through the windows of some No Tell Motel at all hours of the night.

He sighed. He’d done enough cheating spouses and divorce cases to turn him off marriage for good. Not that he didn’t love women. He did. Women were fantastic.

Marriage, on the other hand, seemed to be a losing proposition. Not just because of what he’d seen from this job, but his history as a foster kid had shown him a lot of fighting couples too.

A car pulled into the auction house parking lot. He scrunched down a little farther in the seat. Not that anyone was going to pay attention to a person in a car parked across the street in the chiropractor’s lot in little old Millersville, Georgia. The town defined sleepy.

But old instincts, the kind he’d picked up on the police force, died hard.

Another car pulled in, then another. The auction house would open in ten minutes for the preview of that evening’s items.

He let a few more minutes go by, let the place get open and the first onslaught of lookers go in, then he started up the SUV and drove across the street to join them.

There was a good handful of people in the business now, but he still kept his hat on and changed out his sunglasses for a pair of clear, non-prescription lenses to give himself a little bit of a disguise. It wasn’t much, but no one was there to see him.

They were there to peruse the goods that would soon be up for bid. Including Mrs. Anderson’s candlesticks, which were, frankly, some of the ugliest, clunkiest candlesticks he’d ever laid eyes on. Maybe one of her ancestors had made them in third-grade pottery class and then become famous. She hadn’t really mentioned the story behind them or why they were valuable, just that they were.

She was paying, and paying well, so he wasn’t going to nitpick.

He pretended to inspect the merchandise like everyone else, all the while side-eyeing those around him to see who else was checking out the candlesticks.

No one, really. Most seemed to be focused on the paintings, some furniture, and a glass statue of a semi-naked fairy. He was a little bummed there were no dogs-playing-poker paintings. His place could use one of those.

With a little laugh at how bad his taste was, he made a slow loop through the goods, working his way back around toward the candlesticks.

Even if Mrs. Anderson could afford for him to bid as high as five grand on the pair, he was hoping to get them for a lot less. Because he was also hoping she might see fit to float him the leftover as a bonus.

He finished his loop at the table full of pottery where the candlesticks were, but no one was paying much attention to them except for an older man with a red carnation in his lapel. Who wore a flower like that? It seemed like such a funny thing to do. Unless you were going to prom or meeting a blind date, and neither event seemed next on the old guy’s agenda.

The man lingered by the candlesticks, glancing once around the room to see who else might be looking at them.

Wyatt bent to intently examine a footstool.

Mr. Carnation started walking again.

Wyatt followed.

Mr. Carnation paused in front of a painting of a half-naked woman draped across a velvet couch eating an apple. The painting was yellowed with age and looked like something out of a museum. Not at all Wyatt’s taste, which probably meant it was expensive.

The auction house manager, a thin man with round glasses and a fiddly mustache, approached Mr. Carnation. “It’s a lovely piece, isn’t it? Seventeenth century. From the studio of Pierre Gobert.”

Mr. Carnation nodded like he was giving the painting great consideration. “I thought it was Gobert. Is there a reserve on this piece?”

“Yes, but I don’t think we’ll have any trouble reaching it. Especially if someone of your stature is interested in it.” The manager leaned in with a knowing smile and said something Wyatt couldn’t hear.

He frowned and turned so his good ear was closer to the conversation. He wasn’t sure what was worse: the accident that had caused the hearing loss in his left ear, being forced to take early retirement from the force because of the hearing loss, or the constant nuisance of missing a lot of what was said on his left side.

Mr. Carnation laughed awkwardly. “Yes, well, you’ve found me out. I was hoping I could attend anonymously, but I see that’s not a possibility now.”

The auction manager cleared his throat and leaned back with a sly smile. “I promise, I won’t say a word.”

So Mr. Carnation was somebody. Probably in the art world, guessing by what had just happened. If so, and he was interested in the candlesticks too, Wyatt could very well end up spending all of the money Mrs. Anderson had allotted for them.

In fact, he should probably call her and make sure that five grand was her cap. Before he did that, however, he was going to do one more thing.

Get a picture of Mr. Carnation.

He took his phone out and pretended to call someone. Instead, he pulled up his camera. Then he positioned his thumb over the button to capture images and put the phone to his deaf ear. He started snapping pics as soon as the angle felt right. “Hi, Mom. Just wanted to tell you they have some nice pieces.”

The auction house manager gave him a stern look. Apparently, phone calls weren’t cool inside the auction house.

Wyatt ignored him to take a few more pictures. “Sure, I’ll see what I can do. Okay. Love you, too. Bye.”

The manager was at Wyatt’s side. “Sir, we ask that all calls be taken outside.”

“Oh, right, sorry.” Wyatt gave the man a big, innocent grin. “I was just leaving anyway.”

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