Roses for Regret
Book Three of the
Thyme Will Tell Mystery Series
Can Regan Culver prune away a thorny tangle of suspicion and danger that's strangling an heirloom rose society?
After wildlife rehabilitator Damia Day costs senatorial hopeful Bram Falco the election, her animal patients are slaughtered. Since both Day and Bram are members of the heirloom rose society founded by Regan Culver's mother, Regan is asked to intervene.
But, when someone replaces Falco's lighter fluid with gasoline at a society cookout, the resultant explosion disfigures him for life. A deadly modern War of the Roses ignites. To quench it, Regan must prune away the thorny tangle of suspicion surrounding another election and fiery accident in the 70's which has left one charred body unidentified for twenty-five years.
But first a board member is murdered at the society rose show. And the blood-splotched white blossom found under the victim's hand warns Regan what can happen to an interfering innocent who knows too much. . .
Below, you will find reviews of and an excerpt from Roses for Regret. You can order new or used copies from Amazon or Barnes and Noble or a Kindle edition from Amazon or a Nook edition from Barnes and Noble.
"Audrey Stallsmith knocks the wind out of the reader from the first pages and barely lets you get a breath in for the rest of the book. . .Roses for Regret is a superbly crafted page-turner that doesn't let go. Pick this one up as a reward for work completed, otherwise you'll get nothing done until the last page!"--The Literary Times
"Roses for Regret is a mystery-lover's dream. . .This is one book that will hold your attention."--AOL Online Reviews
"Audrey Stallsmith has created another captivating mystery spiced with subtle wit and a pinch of herbal lore. Top Pick."--Romantic Times
Excerpt from Chapter 5:
The grass cushioning her sandaled feet was thick with dew as she headed for the torches. He had left the glass globes off, and the flames jerked and leaped wildly. Hadn't the wretched man had his fill of fire? Even its erratic illumination seemed overbright at this dead hour of the morning, the crackle like the laughter of Macbeth's witches, the hot, oily smell mixed oversweetly with the incense of roses.
She proceeded slowly along the flagged pathway. This strange promenade was like something out of a fairy tale. Beauty coming to meet the Beast who would devour her.
He was waiting for her at the table, drinking some sort of golden liquid from a glass. He could have been part of an opulent liquor advertisement but for the marred face, the tan Jobst shirt that he wore under his dinner jacket instead of a white one, the brace protruding from the jacket's sleeve. The lighting emphasized his disfigurement while at the same time making it somehow less surprising. The music wafting from the open door of the house behind him was classical but with a strange, discordant, almost angry rhythm.
She thought she saw a certain reluctant admiration in the darkly hooded gaze that followed her straight-backed course up the steps. "Well, Bram," she said, "is this that private party you were talking about?"
"You do look like nobility, you know that, Dame? You took your time. I thought I might have to throw some more pebbles at your window." He took a swig from his glass. "I never knew how awful this stuff tasted before." And, at her surprised look, "Yes, I have my smell and taste back, God help me. Sit down."
When she simply looked at him, he half rose with a gallant, bowing gesture. "Sorry. Excuse my rudeness." He circled the table to pull out a chair for her. "Please have a seat, milady."
She settled into the chair then, and he took the one facing her. When she reached to push the candle between them to the side, he cringed. She understood then how much liquid courage it must have taken him to get that close to flame in the first place.
"You're drunk," she said.
He laughed. "I do like the way you say that. Not with repugnance. Just like somebody determining a fact. Yes, I'm drunk."
"Very few drunks," she said, "can manage a word like repugnance."
"You're doubting me?" He held up the bottle to show her its level. "I'm quite lucid when I'm drunk. Almost, one would say, eloquent. Would you like some?"
"Don't knock it until you've tried it." He poured some of the amber liquid into her glass. She tilted the glass briefly to her lips. Even the small swallow she took seared her throat. She coughed, and said, "I see what you mean about the taste. Were you like this the night you killed my animals?"
"Tut-tut," he said. "You're not supposed to discuss sensitive issues at a party. But I don't imagine you know that. Being such an industrious sort, you no doubt consider social gatherings a waste of your time."
"Not necessarily. I just don't receive many invitations." She gestured toward the silver hawk on his little finger. "I see you're wearing your ring again."
"Yes, it fits me better, don't you think? It was always a bit large for you. Where did you find it, by the way?"
"In the straw near a dead robin. The robin had had its neck twisted, I think."
"Nasty. Yet you never showed the ring to the police. I wonder why. You had already determined to have your own revenge, I suppose."
"I wonder why nobody recognized it as yours when I was wearing it, or why Gavin didn't guess when you were trying to buy it back from me that day in the woods."
"Gavin is not the brightest of lads, not nearly so observant as your sweet self. I hadn't had the ring for long. I wonder why you would return it now? One might think that you had your revenge and saw no further use for the thing. I have something for you too, by the way."
Her gaze dropped to the covered dish by his elbow, but he pushed a vase forward instead. It held two roses, one white, one a dusky red. She looked at the white rose without touching it.
"That's the kind Hilda was holding."
"So it is. El Nino. Too bad I had such a good alibi. Newpax might have thought to tack Hilda's killing on me. The mestizo child. That's what I was. The bastardo who conned his way into all this." Bram waved his bottle grandiosely at the house. "And fooled everybody. Everybody but Hilda, that is. I really think she saw through me that day at the orphanage. She seemed awfully worried, but she didn't say anything."
Day watched him curiously. Did he really see himself that way? As the street kid who had succeeded in duping everybody?
"But I mustn't bore you with my sad history," Bram said. "After all, I would do it again. I always knew it would have to end eventually, but I gave it a good ride while it lasted. Why are we sitting here anyway? This is a party. We should be dancing."
He set his bottle carefully on the table, rose, and came around the table to her.
"I haven't danced in years," she protested mildly. "I don't remember how." But she allowed him to take her hand and lift her from her seat.
It was all quite mad and somehow exhilerating at the same time. The music had risen to a savage, driving beat, and they had to move fast to keep up with it. Because she didn't remember the steps, she could only dizzily follow his lead, waltzing frantically in the shadows above the torches while the rest of the world slept. The arm at her waist was leashed and careful, the braced fingers clawlike. He was, she thought, approaching the stage where his balance, both physical and psychological, would become precarious.
"Why should it have to end?" she asked breathlessly. "You're still a very wealthy man, Bram. More so than ever now that you're Hilda's heir."
"It won't do," he said. "The beggar might become a prince, but the Beast, never. Not unless Beauty kisses and transforms him. And I don't think you're Beauty, Dame, but the bad fairy who made him a beast."
The music dropped suddenly to a slow, dragging dirge, and Day stumbled with it, smiling ruefully. "I didn't think I looked quite that bad."
"The bad fairies could be beautiful too." He regarded her upturned face dispassionately. "When they chose to be. Are you enjoying my party, Dame?"
"Strangely enough, I am."
"Good, because the dawn will be coming soon."
"And what happens with the dawn?" she asked.
"Why, the spell breaks, of course," he said, leading her back to her seat. "No, actually I'm going to fall over in a few minutes, so I'll have to hurry."
She sat with her elbows propped on the tablecloth and her hands laced together under her chin, watching him as he lifted the lid off the dish. The only item on the dish was a holstered gun. Strangely enough, she felt no alarm but simply continued to watch his hands with the same grave attention. The music rose to a final, discordant crescendo and then clicked into silence.
"I don't suppose Hilda knew I had another one," he said, as he drew the sleek revolver carefully from its holster. "It was Kurt's."
He tilted the gun so that its black eye looked up into her face, but she didn't move. The sky was paling, the torches guttering. In the garden below a bird spoke drowsily, tentatively. Now that Day was still, the cool and heavy damp sheathed her like a second skin.
"This is for Hilda," he went on. "Not for my burns. Maybe I deserved those. But your fight was with me, not her. You should have kept it that way. She never got anything but grief from my family. The least she deserves from me is a bit of justice. But I know there's very little chance you will ever be convicted. Do you have anything to say?"
"What is the other rose for? It's a Don Juan, isn't it? Does it represent you or the blood you're about to spill?"
"Neither. A dark red rose stands for shame, for the regret you don't have."
Day unclasped her hands to reach for the white blossom. "I knew," she said, holding the flower to her breast, "that if you wanted to kill me badly enough, there wasn't much I could do to stop you. Beauty didn't see much point in tears either. I came, as she did, to get it over with, one way or another."
"You don't believe I can. My hands aren't that bad."
"I know you can physically. I don't know if you can morally. I don't know you at all really. Except"--she looked around her--"that, as always, you do things up right. It was a lovely party."
She turned her gaze back to his. "You believe in justice, but is this justice? Are you objective enough to give me a fair trial? I think it is my father whom you really hate. I hope that what you think he took from you was more important than the rose Beauty's father stole in the fairy tale. Just remember that, like her, I came willingly."
The gun barrel remained as steady as his dark and empty eyes. The bird chirped more loudly, ending on a high note as if asking a question. . .