Notes and Roses

By: Rozenn Scott

Stanford Creek, Book 1


DEDICATION


With grateful thanks to Rachel Maybury who helped me so much, and to Elin Gregory and Sue Brown who said so many nice things.

To everyone who supported me in my MF group, and had the faith I could write MF. J

To my proofers…Christina Manole, Hanne Lie, Rick Mulholland, Tyra Berger and Dawn Mayhew.

I love you all.



And, always, for my family.





CHAPTER ONE





Megan Campbell stepped away from the cash register of Notes & Roses and leaned against the back counter. She put her right hand in her jeans pocket and, as carefully and unobtrusively as possible, she removed her cell phone and scrolled to Justin’s name. What should she text her brother? Help sounded like a good start. Or possibly, there’s a man in my shop and I think he’s drunk or stoned.

Yep, text something like that to Justin, and he would come in guns blazing. Then he’d pin the weird guy to the floor and read him his rights. And the man currently staring at a wall didn’t look dangerous, just lost. Homeless, maybe?

Something more specific then, like, there is a vagrant in here, and he needs help, what should I do? The man moved a little. Away from her side of the store, the “roses” part of the setup, and over to the “notes” side. He was peering at the shelves; a collection of stationery and household bits and pieces like cushions and local crafts. He stumbled a little, turned to the side, and looked up at the posters displayed on the far wall. Landscapes of Vermont: rivers, small towns and red high-sided barns with gently rolling hills of emerald green.

“That’s wrong,” he said.

“Sorry?” Megan asked — but he didn’t reply.

He’s talking to the wall now. Should she add that to the text as well? This was going to end up being one hell of a lot of typing to explain what he was doing. Despite how odd it all looked, the visitor wasn’t threatening her. Also, Rachel would be back soon. Maybe between them they could sort this out?

He hadn’t even spoken to her, but something wasn’t right. Maybe it was the way he’d been standing, his hands fisted at his sides, staring now at the new Valentines’ wall display of flowers and hearts. Maybe it was the way he was dressed; dark jeans caked in mud, heavy boots that had tracked in the same mud. Not to mention the black hoodie with the hood partially hiding his face from her view.

Or maybe it was the despair in his hunched shoulders, the utter defeat in the way he had to support himself to stand.

Whatever it was, Megan was faced with two options. Talk to the strange man in her shop while she was alone in here, or call in reinforcements in case things went south.

Her visitor moved, not his feet, but his fists, unclenching and bringing his hands up to knuckle his eyes and then cover them. Megan’s cop brother liked to explain these things to her, but she didn’t need his help to recognize when despair in someone turned to anger.

She sent the standard 911 text, startled when she looked up and saw the stranger had stepped closer to her while she’d been distracted.

“Where am I?” he asked, his voice very soft.

“You’re in my shop.”

He shook his head. “I need the music. Someone took it, and I need it.”

Okay, this was so not going the way she wanted it to go. He was incoherent. Maybe he was homeless and needed a place to get out of the persistent snow that had plagued Stanford Creek the last few days. He’d evidently been somewhere slushy and muddy, if his clothes were anything to go by.

“I don’t understand, sir; what music do you need?” she asked, and waited for him to acknowledge her question. Instead, he took another, shaky, step forward, and covered his eyes again. “Hello? Can I help you?” she repeated when he didn’t look at her.

That finally got his attention. His hands came down, and she got her first clear look at his eyes and face. What she saw had her reaching to send another text. He had blood on him, smeared down from his temple into his wild beard, and his blue eyes were bright with something. Drugs maybe? Long, dark hair hid some of his features, and he looked like he was about to keel over.

“Where’s the music?” he mumbled, his voice low and urgent. He gripped his temples hard and stumbled back, knocking a display of greeting cards to the floor. The sound was a loud clatter in the otherwise quiet room. “Shit… I didn’t…”

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