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Eye for an Eye (Molly Sutton Mysteries 10): Large Print

Eye for an Eye (Molly Sutton Mysteries 10): Large Print

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Cozy mystery

Immerse yourself in French village life


March 2008

It was early spring, but in Provence the air already smelled rich and full of the promise of fresh growth and flowers. Redheaded Molly Sutton, standing at the railing of a luxurious rooftop terrace in the historical center of Aix-en-Provence, turned her face up to the evening sky and inhaled deeply, unable to stop smiling. Dearly as she loved her own village, who could turn down an invitation to someplace new … especially in Provence.

It had been a glorious few months since marrying Ben Dufort on a snowy afternoon in Castillac. The couple had enjoyed every second of their honeymoon in Nice, even finding, as perhaps only happy newlyweds can, that a case of stomach upset was hilarious instead of annoying, that a winter sunburn is an opportunity for the delectable mutual slathering of unguents rather than an annoyance, and best of all, that tying the knot had not dulled their feelings for each other one bit.

They had returned home renewed and contented and begun their married life without any difficulties on the horizon, save not quite having enough work for Dufort/Sutton Investigations, which was not an unusual state of affairs. After the wedding, the gossips of the village (which, to be honest, included nearly everyone) were quiet on the subject of Molly and Ben; after all, happiness and contentment do not offer much in the way of juicy news. They tried to stir up some interest in the fact that Molly, only a scant few months after the wedding, had traipsed off by herself to visit out-of-town friends: really, so soon? Was there trouble in paradise? But Ben had responded to any such hints with a hearty laugh, and the talk had eventually dwindled away.

The sun had long since dropped below the rooftops, but Molly could see perfectly well thanks to the streetlights. Just below, rue Niccolo was narrow, and peering down without leaning out too far, she could see into the building on the other side of the street: an older man stood at a stove, stirring something in a saucepan. Farther inside the room, a beautifully-set table lit by candles.

The terrace was the top of a stunning house belonging to her friends Adèle and Michel Faure, brother and sister, whom she had met on a case early in her career as an investigator. The stylishness of the apartment was testament to their very good (and expensive) taste, but to Molly’s mind, the real achievement was the roof garden, which when they had bought the place had consisted of nothing but a desultory café table and a couple of uncomfortable chairs parked on a flat tarpaper roof. But now it was a green paradise right in the middle of town, with trees in enormous jardinières just beginning to leaf out, as well as an extensive herb garden already bursting with a wide variety of herbs ready to snip for an omelette, a stew, or a cocktail.

Well, luxurious roof gardens aside, if I’m going to be honest, I do miss Ben rather badly, thought Molly, letting her eyes drift over the herbs distractedly, and allowing herself to get a little misty-eyed. He told me I would and he was right. She smiled again, remembering how he had teased her when she told him about her plan to visit Provence.

“It’s not that I’m restless by nature,” she had said. “Well, maybe just a little. But I don’t have all that much in the way of gîte bookings at the moment. I mean, yes, someone is coming every week, but it’s not like we’re full up the way it will be in summer. So … it seems like the right moment to skip town, just for two or three weeks. Apart from Lawrence, Adèle and Michel were the first real friends I made in France, and I haven’t seen them in so long. I don’t want the connection to lapse so long it fades away, you know? Adèle is all hot for me to come to the music festival and listen to some opera. But please, be honest—do you mind staying home and running the gîtes while I’m away? Would you rather come to Aix with me? Because we can find someone to run things while we’re gone, I’m sure.”

Ben had reassured her that the honeymoon was enough travel to last him for a while, and he was more than happy to stay behind and take care of the gîtes. He kissed her long and lovingly, and she knew in that moment that she would suffer being apart from him. But Molly was not a person who expected life to be free of suffering every second, and she was independent through and through. So she packed her bags and took a train to Aix, which she fell in love with so immediately and so violently that while she was there, she believed it to be even more magnificent than Paris (though she was unwilling to admit this to anyone because it seemed blasphemous).

Molly held onto the iron railing with both hands and closed her eyes. Someone called a cat (who says the French aren’t optimists? thought Molly), and the smell of something cooking in wine drifted up to the roof along with the sound of clattering pots and pans. It was Friday night. The neighborhood was sitting down to dinner, and Molly’s mouth began to water as she wondered what her friends were making in the kitchen.

The day of traveling was done, the reunion with her friends had been joyful and instantly comfortable, her glass of wine was more than delicious, the roof garden an oasis of calm. All she had to do was wait a few more moments for her friends to return from their day of errands and cooking. Everything—even including missing Ben—should have been delightful.

But somehow, Molly could not settle. She sat down on an insanely comfortable glider with soft cushions but got right up again, back to the edge of the roof, and looked down at rue Niccolo. It was empty. She saw that the shoots on the pollarded trees were starting to sprout, which usually fascinated her, but her eyes skated past them.

I don’t know, she thought. Everything is just as it should be, and yet …

Molly breathed deeply and appreciated the smell of chicken cooking in wine. Probably just some leftover stress from traveling, she thought, going back to the glider and taking another big sip from her glass. After all, feelings aren’t facts … right?

* * *

“The big problem, obviously, is that there is, as yet, no staircase to the roof,” Adèle said, balancing a tray of food she had somehow managed to carry up the ladder with one hand, steadying the tray on one shoulder while sliding her hand along a side rail, despite having some physical challenges from having been born with a clubfoot. “We looked into installing a spiral staircase, but there is no place to tuck it where it won’t ruin a room. The ladder is fine—I even like it, to be honest—it’s like having a grown-up’s treehouse, you know? But of course it makes dining up here something of a challenge. Michel keeps talking about putting in a dumbwaiter, but so far he’s all hat and no cattle.”

Molly laughed. “Are you secretly from Texas?”

Adèle grinned. “It’s the perfect phrase. So many occasions to use it, I’m afraid I’ll wear it out. Anyway. Here we are.”

“It would kill me dead if this dinner ended up on the floor.”

“And I would kill whoever dropped it!” said Adèle, somewhat fiercely. “I’ve been working very hard on my cooking and can’t wait to show off.”

“I thought you might have hired a cook, once your aunt’s money came in,” said Molly, and then clapped her hand over her mouth.

Adèle laughed. “No worries,” she said. “You know that’s one of the things we love about you, right? You say things that other people think but are too restrained to say.”

“You mean I put my foot in it every five minutes.”

Adèle smiled. “It is so good to see you. Now where is Michel?”

Molly leaned back into the soft cushions and observed her friend. Adèle was well-dressed, as she always was. Not in a flashy way—but Molly knew her beautifully-cut pants and simple-looking shirt were doubtless from some Parisian designer who Molly was unfamiliar with. Adèle’s hair was pulled back into a loose chignon, a more relaxed style than she had worn when she lived in Castillac. Molly could see that, on the surface at least, Provence seemed to agree with her. 

Adèle freshened Molly’s glass and poured one for herself, talking amiably about the vintner who lived just outside Aix and had become a good friend. The intricacies of winemaking were still mysterious to Molly, and after some years in France, she had accepted that she was never going to understand the process as well as a native. So she listened politely but kept an ear out for Michel, finally going over to the opening for the ladder and looking down.

“These olives are super tasty, and of course I’m enjoying your friend’s wine immensely. But where in the world is Michel? I’m going to faint from hunger.”

Adèle looked cross. “I love my brother. No one knows that more than you,” she said, affectionately. “And at the same time—he can be quite exasperating. I thought he was right behind me with the roast chicken!”

Again Molly noticed an unsettling feeling, a twinge of anxiety in her belly, and wondered what it was about. Simply the prospect of an ambrosial chicken upside down on the floor?

The friends settled in and talked about the first time they met, at La Métairie, the best restaurant in Castillac, when Molly had discovered their not exactly well-loved aunt lying dead on the restroom floor. They talked about how nice it was to have a little money, and how it solved some big problems but hardly all of them. They talked about marriage, and decided it was much the same way.

“And you two—any romance on the horizon for either of you?” Molly asked, grinning.

Adèle waved her arms in the air and looked away. “A person can’t expect …” she started but did not finish. Molly cocked her head, waiting to see if she would continue, but Adèle stayed quiet, her eyes on the building across the street. They found some inconsequential things to talk about, which was no doubt for the best; the friends needed some time together before making their way back to the former degree of intimacy. But the intimacy had been real—how could it have been otherwise, when Molly had been privy to the complicated family secrets of the Faures, and when all their lives had been in danger as a result?

At last they heard the sound of Michel making his way up, and a roast chicken on a platter appeared through the opening, with one hand expertly guiding it to safety.

“Michel!” shouted Adèle. “Is this any way to treat a guest? What in the world have you been doing?”

With a winning smile, he pushed himself through the opening. “Sorry, sis,” he said. He bowed to Molly with a wide grin. “Have I mentioned how happy I am that you’re here?”

“A few times,” said Molly with a laugh.

“If you’re so happy, why are you intent on starving her?” asked Adèle.

“Didn’t you hear all the hubbub? Down on the street?”

“We did not.”

“What’s going on?” asked Molly, her ears nearly pricking up like her dog Bobo’s.

Michel nimbly got to his feet and brought the platter of chicken to the table. It was swimming in a thick, dark sauce, with roasted potatoes and carrots encircling it. It smelled heavenly. But even the divine aroma did not distract Molly from wanting to know more about the hubbub.

“It’s Madame Trudeau. I stuck my head out the front door to see what the fuss was about and saw her being carried out on a stretcher.”

“Stretcher? Is she all right?”

Michel laughed. “You’re kind to ask, sis. You really are. No, she is not all right, she had a sheet pulled over her head.”

“Yikes. I take it … this is no great friend of yours?” said Molly, watching Michel’s face.

“No great friend of anyone’s, I’d say,” said Adèle. “Well, you’ll understand what I mean: of anyone I can think of, she reminded us most of dear Aunt Josephine.”

“To dear Aunt Josephine!” said Michel, merrily raising his glass.

“Ah. Not exactly a warm-hearted soul, this Madame Trudeau?”

“She was a horrible, vicious person who didn’t deserve—” said Adèle, stopping herself and taking a breath. Her face was pale.

“Perhaps … let’s talk about what we’re going to show Molly here in Aix,” said Michel.

Molly noticed Adèle’s hand trembling as she reached for the salt.

“Honestly, you don’t have to make any great plans for me,” said Molly. “My very favorite thing, well, besides eating, is just to wander around the streets, gawking at everything and everyone. I’m not all that much for actual sightseeing. Too much pressure.”

“It’s a beautiful city for wandering,” Adèle said, still gripping the saltshaker. “And the play we told you about—well, lured you here with,” she laughed. “It’s not opening for nearly two weeks. So please, mi casa es su casa and all that. Wander all you like.”

The image of the neighbor covered with a sheet stayed on their minds, though each of them, for their own reasons, did not mention it.

Molly shook her head as though to clear her thoughts. The three were quiet for another moment, the two women watching Michel’s progress carving the chicken. They heard a clatter down the street that sounded like someone had dropped a hubcap on the sidewalk.

“How did she die?” asked Molly.

Michel let out a musical laugh. “Oh, now Molly, I’m sure you’re worried about being bored, here for only a social visit with no investigation to sink your teeth into. Madame Trudeau was in her eighties, wouldn’t you say, Adèle? No doubt she died from natural causes.”

Molly shrugged. “I wasn’t hinting at anything, just curious.”

“Mm hmm,” said Michel, winking at her. “Sure you were.”

They sipped their wine. A nightingale sang so close it seemed to be a guest of the dinner party. Each was lost in thought, and the companionable silence lasted for some time.

Michel looked seriously at his sister and nodded, then piled their plates with chicken and slices of artichoke heart, carrots, and potatoes. He refilled their glasses once more and checked to make sure they each had napkins and utensils. He was ready to scramble down the ladder for anything they’d forgotten.

“To the death of Madame Trudeau!” said Adèle, snatching up her glass and raising it for a toast. “May all tyrants meet their Maker sooner rather than later!”

It was a grisly toast, but the three friends had met in grisly circumstances after all, and they clinked glasses with enthusiasm. 

The twinge of unease Molly had felt dissipated entirely with the delicious food and company, and she was nothing but glad she had decided to leave Castillac to visit her friends. Happy to be married to Ben, and also happy to have a chance to miss him. Happy to be exactly where she was, in a town new to her, on a roof listening to nightingales, a little tipsy, with two people she absolutely adored.

Murder follows wherever she goes....

It's just a relaxed visit to Provence to see old friends. A joyful reunion...until a murder spree breaks out in the neighborhood--and you know Molly's not going to rest until the killer is caught.

But so many bodies, so many suspects, so many red herrings. How in the world will Molly do it?

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