“You’re not flirting with my woman, are you?” Loch said from right behind him, his tone saying that he was joking. Mostly. But the way that he threw his arm around Ginger’s shoulders left no question as to his feelings about the plump, sexy redhead.
“Are you kidding? I’m not suicidal,” Tate laughed.
“Loch! Quit being such a caveman.” Ginger smacked her fiancé on the arm, her tone of exasperation mingled with amusement. “I am my own woman.”
Lock kissed her on the top of her head. “You keep telling yourself that.”
“Besides, Tate likes the bobcat,” one of the older ladies from the salon piped up.
Ginger perked up immediately, looking at Tate with interest. “Bobcat? Really? Where? Let me check her out and give you my assessment. I can’t remember you ever liking a woman since I’ve known you.”
“She left. And I did not like her. Well, I didn’t dislike her, but…never mind,” Tate muttered. Everybody was staring at him now. Damned small towns. People had nothing better to do than gossip.
“Anyway, Loch, fill me in on what we’ve got,” Tate continued, eager to change the subject. “What else is missing besides the tiara?”
“So far, nothing, not even cash. They’re still taking inventory, though.”
“If the only thing that was stolen was the wedding tiara, that makes it sound personal. Was there any security footage? Nobody saw anything?”
“You know how it is here in Blue Moon Junction. The jewelry store hasn’t been robbed since…ever,” Loch said. “They didn’t have a security system or cameras. They had bars on their window, and a dime store lock on their door, and they thought that was enough. Up until now, it had been.”
Loch glanced at the store. “And to make things even more complicated, the owner of the store, Nigel, died a few months ago, and everything there is kind of in disarray.”
The Hoopers were a family of coyote shifters who’d been running the store since the early 1900s.
“I heard about Nigel’s passing,” Tate said. “Who’s in charge now?”
“His son, Hamilton.”
“Hamilton...don’t think I ever met him. I didn’t know the Hoopers had any children.”
“He left town a couple of years before you were born. He was estranged from his father, left town thirty years ago, when he was only eighteen. Word is, he was gay, and his father couldn’t accept it. When he left, his family never spoke of him again. He went out to Hollywood, apparently tried to make it in acting and failed, worked as a bartender. He’d kept in touch with his mother, and when Nigel died, she begged him to come back to town and take over the store. He’s only been back in town a few weeks. She can’t do much on her own these days; she’s got Alzheimer’s.”
Loch nodded toward a lean, handsome man who looked much younger than his forty-eight years with wavy hair and the distinct Hooper bump in his nose. For Hamilton to look that young, Tate was willing to bet he’d had some work done on his face. Typical for an actor from California, Tate imagined.
“What’s your impression of him?” Tate asked, watching Hamilton flirt with a pretty brunette in a tank top and jeans. “Gay, is he? Seems kind of like a lady’s man to me.”
“He’s both. From what I’m hearing, he’s plenty friendly with both men and women. He likes attention. He’s not really taking too well to running the jewelry store. Doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
At Tate’s questioning glance, he added, “He’s a suspect like everybody else. He doesn’t have any significant criminal record, a couple of arrests for public solicitation, about twenty years ago. The Hoopers have insisted that we search their homes to verify that the tiara isn’t there. That doesn’t really mean anything, of course. They’d have to be complete fools to hide something like that in their own home. Nigel’s widow says she was home alone since seven p.m. The neighbors are pretty sure that’s true. Also, when I talked to her today, it’s pretty clear that her dementia’s getting more and more advanced. Hamilton says that he was home last night as well, with a young man, whom he declines to name given the fact that this is a small town and not everybody’s open-minded here. He’s not living with his mother. He’s renting a house over on Meadowlark Lane.”