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A Sip Before Dying - Chapter Five



"So, do we buy the grieving widow act?" Ava asked once we were back in the car.

I swatted her arm. "I don't think it was an act."

Ava shrugged. "Okay, so maybe the grief was real." She paused. "But just because she misses the philandering god doesn't mean she wasn't the one who killed him in a fit of passion."

"Poisoning doesn't strike me as something one does in a fit of passion," I mused, as much to myself as to my best friend as I pulled away from the estate.

"Good point." Ava bit her lip, looking out the window as rows of oak trees gave way to the main road. "So maybe one of his little mistakes did it. Maybe an affair gone wrong?"

I nodded. "Maybe. But Vivienne said he hadn't strayed recently."

Ava laughed. "Yeah, right. For a corporate type, Vivienne is a terrible liar."

I grinned and shot her a look. "You caught that too, huh?"

"Look, either that woman is lying to herself or us, but I'd bet money Chas had a least one woman on the side. Who knows, maybe more."

"Well if his wife didn't know who—"

"Or isn't telling us."

"—how are we going to find out?"

Ava fell silent, thinking about that for a beat. "You said Chas and Jenny were close, right?"

I nodded. "That was the impression Jenny gave me."

"Maybe she knew?"

I started to shake my head in the negative, as that didn't seem like the type of secret Jenny would keep. But then again, I didn't know Jenny that well. Schoolgirl Jenny—yes. But the grown woman who had left out the fact that her brother's wife had just fired her? That Jenny I was still 99% sure had not killed her brother. But how much about his smarmy life she knew, was anyone's guess.

"Maybe we should pay Jenny a visit."


* * *


Fifteen minutes later, Jenny greeted us at the door of her small apartment in a complex near Riverside Drive. Only as she ushered us in, I realized someone else had beaten us there.

Detective Grant stood beside a love seat, his little notebook in hand, his broad shoulders practically filling the room. Or maybe that was just his commanding presence. His sharp eyes honed in on Ava and me, recognition dawning immediately. I had a feeling not much got past those eyes. Today he was dressed in the same style of worn jeans, but he'd paired them with a black blazer with a distinct gun bulge at the hip. It gave him an air of danger that made me shiver despite my innocence.

"Ms. Oak. Ms. Barnet." Grant nodded curtly toward each of us.

"I hope we're not interrupting," I said, my eyes going to Jenny. In sharp contrast to Grant's confident air, Jenny looked much smaller and more pale than the day before. Her eyes were red and looked wet, like tears were her perpetual companion.

"The detective was just asking a few questions," Jenny answered, her voice small and weak in a way that made me instinctively feel protective. She sank down onto an armchair, and I stood behind her, taking a physically protective stance and mentally ready to defend her.

"What sort of questions?" I asked.

Grant's eyes flickered to mine. "About the wineglass that was found near her brother."

Jenny put a hand to her mouth, stifling a sob. "He says Chas was poisoned. Who would do that?" she asked me.

I glanced at Grant. If I had to guess, he thought Jenny would. "What about the glass?" I asked him. "We had several circulating at the event."

"How did Mr. Pennington come by this particular glass?"

I blinked at him. "I don't know. I mean…he probably got it from the tasting room."

"You didn't hand it to him?" Grant asked, his eyes on Jenny now.

She shook her head. "No. Chas had enough to drink at the picnic. I wouldn't have encouraged him to drink more."

Grant consulted his notes. "Yes, several people described Mr. Pennington as intoxicated at the event."

"It was a wine tasting. Several people were intoxicated," Ava pointed out.

"But we made sure they Ubered home," I assured him, again almost feeling guilty under his assessing gaze.

Grant made a sound like a grunt, going back to his notes. "So you didn't handle his glass at any time?" he pressed Jenny.

She shook her head. "I-I don't think so."

"You don't think so, or you're sure you didn't?"

"I don't know," she said, her voice pitching up in a frenzy. "A lot was going on."

"Were you drinking?"

Jenny looked from Ava to me as if searching for the right answer to that question. "I-I mean, a little. I had a glass at the early tasting. Maybe one with the meal. But I had offered to drive Vivienne home, so I only had water the last hour or so."

"Why do you want to know?" I asked Grant.

His gaze turned to meet mine, and I felt myself shiver again. I could well imagine many guilty parties cracking under his hard stare. It was almost as if he could see inside me, could see every dirty little secret I'd ever had, every little white lie I'd ever told. Even if my worst was lying about my weight on my driver license and the fact that I maybe had a little help from Clairol with my particular shade of blonde.

"I want to know," Grant answered, his voice low and even, "because Jenny's fingerprints were on the wineglass."

"I don't know how they got there!" Jenny cried, her protest ending in a sob.

I shook my head. "But the glass was broken. How can you even tell whose fingerprints were on it?"

"We were able to retrieve the larger shards and found two partial prints. The victim's and his sister's." He nodded toward Jenny.

"Well, I-I must have picked up his glass at some point. I mean, we were at the same table. Maybe I grabbed the wrong glass?" Which might have been more convincing if it hadn't come out as a question.

"Anyone could have touched that glass," I said, coming to her defense.

"But only two people did. Just two sets of prints." Grant held up a pair of fingers to illustrate the point.

"Maybe the killer's prints were on the glass that shattered," I reasoned.

"Maybe." Grant didn't sound too convinced.

"Have you looked into Vivienne Price-Pennington?" Ava cut in.

All eyes went to her—Grant's filled with something akin to curiosity, while I was pretty sure mine were flashing with fire. While I knew Jenny was innocent, shoving our biggest VIP under the bus was not the best strategy to win friends in wine country.

"Uh, she, uh, may have had a motive to want her husband gone," Ava said.

"Vivienne?" Jenny choked, her voice laced with tears. "Why on earth would she want that?"

"No reason. Ava is reaching." I shot my friend a look. Ix-nay on the Ivienne-vay.

"We are following several leads at the moment," Grant said noncommittally. He shut his notebook and nodded to Jenny. "I'll be in touch."

As he stepped toward the door in the small room, he came within a few inches of me, the heat from his body radiating in a way that felt as if it filled the room. His flecked eyes met mine, and something flashed behind them that made my stomach flip. Danger, distrust, and maybe even a little heat. It was all I could do to keep from confessing my real weight and hair color.

As soon as he left, I felt a collective sigh of relief in the room at large.

"Sorry," Ava said, falling onto the sofa. "I didn't mean to finger Vivienne. That guy just makes me so nervous."

"I understand," I said, meaning it.

"How anyone can be so intimidating and so hot at the same time is beyond me," Ava added.

I shot her a look.

"What? You can't tell me he didn't make your lady bits tingle just a little."

Honestly? I couldn't. So I wisely changed the subject. "You okay?" I asked, turning to Jenny.

She shrugged her bony shoulders. "I don't know how my fingerprints got on the glass," she mumbled. "But I'd never hurt Chas."

"I know," I told her, putting a hand on her back. "I'm sure the detective's questions were just routine."

Ava raised an eyebrow at me. Okay, so maybe I told little white lies on more than just my ID.

"Jenny, can you think of anyone who might have wanted to hurt Chas?" Ava asked.

She shook her head vehemently. "No! Why would anyone want to hurt him? Everyone loved Chas."

I patted her shoulder again, wondering just how many everyones we were talking about. "We saw Vivienne earlier," I began, picking my words carefully. "She mentioned that Chas had been unfaithful to her in the past."

Jenny bit her lip. "He didn't mean anything by it," she said, mirroring what Vivienne had told us. "He just…he didn't always think before he acted. You know? And he's always been popular with girls."

"Any girls in particular?" I pressed.

Again she nibbled her lip, her eyes going to the ground. "You promise you won't tell Vivienne I told you?" Her voice was so low it was practically whispering.

I watched Ava scoot forward on the sofa, teetering on the edge of it in anticipation. I had a feeling this was going to be good.

"Pinky promise," I told her.

Jenny sighed. "A couple weeks ago I saw something at work. Between Chas and a woman."

Something clicked in the back of my mind. "Was the woman Sadie Evans?"

Jenny's head shot up. "How did you know?"

"Lucky guess," I lied. "She's Vivienne's business partner, right?"

Jenny nodded. "She is now. But she started as Vivienne's protégé. She's been grooming Sadie for years at Price Digital, and I swear Sadie is like a little Vivienne clone. She has the same shark attitude in the boardroom and even wears the same clothes and does her hair just like Vivienne. It's kind of creepy, really."

"And Chas was cheating on Vivienne with this Sadie clone?" Ava asked.

I thought about the discomfort I'd detected in Vivienne's voice when she'd spoken of Sadie. Having your protégé sleep with your husband would definitely qualify as uncomfortable.

But Jenny shook her head. "No. I mean, I don't really know."

"You said you saw something at work," I prompted her. "What happened?"

"Well, it wasn't anything really. I mean, I don't know if I should even say anything…"

"You should," Ava said, scooting even closer.

"Well, I just saw Chas in Sadie's office, leaning in toward her. Like, close to her. I guess he could have just been telling her something in confidence, but it felt off, you know? Like a little too intimate. I asked Chas about it later, but he blew it off. But then two days later, Sadie fired me out of the blue." She swallowed, sending me a look that pleaded with me to believe her. "She said it was due to 'underperformance,' but I had a feeling she just didn't want me around."

In case she witnessed even more of what was going on between Vivienne's partner and her husband? I remembered Chas was late to the party because he'd been held up at work. I wondered if Sadie was what he'd really been held up with.

"Jenny, why did you make it sound like you still worked at Price Digital at the party?" I asked her softly.

Her eyes misted again. "I'm sorry. I…I was embarrassed. I mean, look at how well you and Ava have done for yourselves. I couldn't even keep the job my brother got for me."

While my heart went out to her, I didn't point out that I hadn't actually done all that much for myself other than try not to run my parents' legacy into the ground. Jenny had enough problems—she didn't need to hear about mine too.

"I hate to have to ask this," I told Jenny, "but Detective Grant mentioned that you were Chas's sole heir."

Jenny's eyes filled again, and she nodded.

"So you knew about that?

She nodded again. "Yes. Chas told me he made a will after he married Vivienne."

"Do you know what you stand to inherit?"

She shrugged. "Honestly? I have no idea. I mean, Vivienne held the reins on the money." She paused. "Chas helped me out now and then when I couldn't make rent, but it was getting harder and harder for him to convince Vivienne to give him cash. I-I can't imagine he had much of his own, you know? I honestly thought he was silly to make a will in the first place. Why should he? He was so young." Her face scrunched up, her eyes filling with tears. "I guess I'm really on my own now," Jenny said, dissolving into sobs.

Ava got up and took Jenny's hand in hers, patting it comfortingly. I went into Jenny's cluttered little kitchen and found what I needed to brew a cup of tea. As I came back with the warm mug, Jenny was sitting on the sofa, with Ava's arm round her shoulders.

"Are your parents coming into town?" I asked, handing Jenny the steaming cup.

"Not for a few days. For the funeral."

I shared a look with Ava, seeing the same sympathy I felt mirrored in her eyes. A week was a long time, and Jenny seemed too fragile to be alone.

"How about you come stay with me for a bit?" Ava said. "In my apartment, above the shop. You can get a lot of crying done, but if you want to talk about anything, well, at least you won't be alone."

Jenny laid her head on Ava's shoulder. "Would it be totally weak of me to say yes?"

"Not at all," Ava promised.

We helped Jenny pack a small overnight bag, and I dropped the pair off at Ava's boutique, where she promised she'd keep an eye on Jenny for the evening.

I was thankful for her big heart—both for the fact that Jenny had someone to cry to and also that if Detective Grant came around again, Ava would be in the protector role.

I just prayed we were protecting the right person.

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