Thirty-Five and a Half Conspiracies

Page 1

Chapter 1

They say sitting in a jail cell can make you reevaluate your life.

As I sat in Fenton County lockup—charged with my own momma’s murder—I was definitely learning the truth of that statement.

I sat on the lower bunk of a bed while the three women who shared the cell eyed me liked I’d just announced I was from the planet Jupiter. Of course, their reaction might have had something to do with the fact that I hadn’t stopped crying once in the last hour.

One of the women sat down next to me. She had long blond hair and looked to be in her late twenties. If it weren’t for her rotten teeth, she would remind me a little bit of my best friend, Neely Kate. “I’m Rhea, and these two are Tawana and Janie.”

The dark-complected woman sitting cross-legged on the bed across from me lifted her hand at Tawana, and the older gray-haired woman standing in the corner nodded at Janie.

“I’m Rose.”

Rhea patted my hand. “Is it your first time getting arrested, honey?”

I nodded and wiped my cheeks with the back of my hand. I considered telling her I’d been locked up before. But I was pretty sure neither time counted since this was the first time I’d been put in full lockup in a bright orange jumpsuit.

“What were you arrested for?”

“Murder.” I broke down into tears again, thoroughly disgusted with myself but unable to stop.

This was bad. Very bad. I wasn’t sure my boyfriend, Mason, could get me out of it now that he’d lost his job as the Fenton County Assistant District Attorney.

The other two women eyed me with new respect, and Rhea moved away a few inches. “You don’t say.”

“I didn’t do it, though,” I gushed out. “I was framed.”

Tawana tsked as she crossed her arms and shook her head. “Ain’t we all, baby girl. Ain’t we all.”

“Was yer man beatin’ ya?” Rhea asked. “So you killed him in self-defense?”

“No.” I shook my head. “It was my mother.”

“Damn,” Tawana said, shaking her head. “That’s cold.”

“But I didn’t do it,” I protested. “Daniel Crocker did it. But J.R. Simmons made it look like I paid him to do it.”

All three women were now openly staring, and it occurred to me that I should probably have kept all of that to myself.

“Let me get this straight,” Janie piped up from the corner. “You paid Daniel Crocker to kill yer momma?” She scrunched up her face. “And he did it?”

“No. He killed her, but I never paid him to do it. In fact, I’m pretty doggone sure he intended to kill me instead.”

“Rose.” Tawana snapped her fingers and pointed at me. “Well, I’ll be damned. Yer Rose Gardner, ain’t ya?”

I wasn’t sure admitting that was a good idea either.

Janie gave me a long cold stare. “Yer the one who killed him.”

There was no use denying it. I’d killed him in self-defense, but I’d long since learned that quite a few people in Fenton County had practically worshipped the man. They liked to ignore the fact that he’d been a sadistic sociopath.

Janie began to stalk toward me. “I worked for him. At least I did until you killed him.”

“So why don’t you work for Skeeter Malcolm now?” I asked. Hopefully my question would distract her from physical violence.

She laughed, but it wasn’t a friendly sound. “What does a Mary Sue like you know about Skeeter Malcolm?”

A whole lot more than she’d ever suspect. “What did you do for Crocker?”

She released a bitter chuckle. “What? You conducting a job interview?”

I shrugged, happy that I’d been distracted enough to stop crying. “I’ve got nothing but time, so why not tell me?”

She crossed her arms over her chest. “I worked in his greenhouse. Used to grow his pot.”

“Maybe I can help you get a new job. What are you willin’ to do?”

Janie started to speak, but Tawana leaned forward and whacked her on the arm. “What are you doin’? Don’t you know who she is?”

Janie nodded. “Yeah, she’s Rose Gardner. The woman who killed Daniel Crocker.”

“She’s also Rose Gardner, girlfriend to the assistant DA.”

The woman’s eyes widened in fear.

“But he’s not the ADA anymore,” I said. “He lost his job tonight.”

“I still wouldn’t trust her,” Tawana harrumphed. “She also used to date the chief deputy sheriff.”

“Damn, girl,” Rhea said a little wistfully. “You get around.”

There was no denying I’d dated both men, but I was fairly sure they didn’t want to hear that my former boyfriend had taken a front-row seat while that witch Deputy Hoffstetter arrested me.

Tawana crossed her arms. “They put her here to spy on us.”

“No.” I shook my head. “I’m not spying on anyone.”

Janie closed the distance between us. She grabbed my arm, hauled me to my feet, and slammed me against the bars. Grabbing my jumpsuit in her fists, she leaned in until we practically stood nose to nose.

“I don’t like snitches,” she snarled.

And that’s when I felt the beginning of a vision.

I would have groaned if I had been capable of it, but once a vision got its hooks into me, it wouldn’t let go until it was done. The visions only lasted a few seconds, and I looked kind of zoned out when I was having one. That was easy enough to explain, but the fact that I would uncontrollably blurt out a description of whatever I’d seen? Not so much.

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