- Author: Maria Swan
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Apples, Appaloosa and Alibis
Maria Grazia Swan
Copyright © 2021 Maria Grazia Swan
An Echo Canyon Press Publication
All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the US Copyright Law.
Apples, Appaloosa and Alibis is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author and publisher.
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Sally J. Smith, Fiction Editor
Cover Design by Mariah Sinclair
Table of Contents
Monica’s French Toast
Brenda’s French Toast with Baked Apple Topping
A note from the author
More books by Maria Grazia Swan
About the Author
This book is dedicated to a very special friend who left us way too soon.
R.I.P Michael B.
THE CHIMING OF the doorbell sent me to the ceiling—as if being alone in the Dumonts’ home didn’t get me messed up enough.
Who could it be? The Dumonts had to have some door camera/answering thingy somewhere. But where? On my toes, I stretched, hoping to peek at the visitor through the beveled glass inserts. Fat chance. I sighed and opened the massive front door.
A thin, gray-haired woman stood there, avoiding my eyes while fidgeting with the strap of her black, worn purse.
“I’m here to see Tristan Dumont.” Her lips stretched in a brief, forced smile. Our eyes met for a nanosecond, and hers reminded me of dark wells. You know, like in the westerns, dug too deep and left dry.
What was I thinking? Why all that poetic dumping about this woman, when I seemed the edgier one?
“Huh, I’m sorry he isn’t here,” I said, while thinking, I wish he was, lady. I wish he was.
The strap fidgeting came to an abrupt stop, and she moved back a bit, or maybe it only felt that way. We were still facing each other with me inside the door and one step up, yet she was still taller. Not a hard accomplishment, especially since I was wearing low heels.
She stretched her neck and lifted her head a little, trying to see inside the house? I detected... stress? No, not stress. A sad acceptance maybe. Acceptance of what, Sherlock?
“Is his wife here?” Good English with a slight accent I couldn’t place.
Her question had me now fidgeting with my cell phone. I wasn’t going to tell her I was alone. What if she were here to case the place? Really, Monica?
“Excuse me, Ms...” My mouth open, I waited.
She didn’t take the bait but instead asked, “Are you Mrs. Dumont’s assistant?”
Huh? Me? “Look, ma’am, the Dumonts are not home at the moment. If you have a message, I will be happy to pass it on. Otherwise, I’m expecting clients to tour the property,” I lied, stepped back, and pushed on the front door to make a point, my sense of cautious empathy quickly vanishing.
“Wait, wait.” She swallowed hard and grabbed the door handle. “Clients? The Dumonts’ house?” A quiver in her voice.
Darn, she called my bluff. But hey, “I’m a Realtor,” I announced proudly, hurrying my fingers through my jeans pocket to pluck out a business card with my name on it. “Here.” I handed it to her hoping she would take it and go away. Instead she read the card out loud, slowly. “Monica Baker, Realtor, Desert Homes Realty.” She nodded while reading, like one of those bobble head dolls. “Why is he selling the house?” Her eyes met mine then looked away.
“Excuse me? I never said the house was for sale, and if you have questions you can ask Tris—I mean, Mr. Dumont, yourself.” I didn’t like the brief flash I caught in her eyes when I almost let his first name slip out. Maybe she was better acquainted with the Dumonts than I assumed. She nodded with more determination, fought the tarnished silver clasp of her purse, got it open and fished out a ballpoint pen. I watched in horror as she folded my business card in two, ripped it with slow precision, scribbled something on the back of one half and handed it back to me.
“Please, give this to Tristan Dumont.” That thing in her eyes again. “Ask him to call me. It’s about” —she bit her lower lip— “his father.” She turned, still holding the other half of the card, and left.
Mouth open as if gasping for air, I watched the gray-haired woman hurry down the paved driveway toward the main gate, which I had carelessly left wide open. Was she limping? Maybe, maybe not. The pavers could be hard on the ankles and feet. How did she get here in the first place? Uber? The afternoon February sun shone on the only visible vehicle, my rented carriage.
I didn’t know why I lied to the sad woman or what to make of the whole thing. No clients were coming to the Dumonts’ home, and I wasn’t there to show anything. No, I came because Angelique Dumont, Tristan’s wife, had asked me to please stop by to pick up the mail before the mailbox got too full and the mailman stopped delivering. She and my Aunt Brenda were business partners in a catering business they hoped to get off the ground. That and some other stuff going on at the Dumont ranch down in Tucson.
Aunt Brenda was really my ex-spouse’s aunt by blood, mine in name only. But in truth, she was a whole lot more than that to me—we lived on the same property, shared life experiences and family history. Brenda had told me where to find the spare key at the Dumonts’ residence in north Phoenix before joining Angelique and Lois Thomas, Angelique’s personal assistant, in Tucson.
Everyone from the household seemed to be down at the ranch, even Dior, Brenda’s blue Great Dane, and Tache, Tristan’s appaloosa—everyone but Tristan Dumont, Angelique’s