After retrieving fresh lobster nets from a local Laundromat, Cass Halloran rushes to attend a last-minute gathering with her knitting circle. But Cass can’t stop worrying about the lonely boy seen hanging around the dryers, and the school uniform he left behind in a hurry. When the ladies return the lost clothing the next day, they find the child and his younger sister alone, seemingly abandoned by their mother . . .
The knitters intend to facilitate a family reunion, not investigate a crime. But the death of Dolores Cardozo, a recluse from the edge of town, throws the group for a loop. Especially when the missing mother and one of their own become tied to the victim’s hidden fortune—and her murder . . . It’s up to the Seaside Knitters to string together the truth about Dolores—while preventing a greedy murderer from making another move!
“A brilliantly written crime mystery, full of suspense and human warmth.”
—The Washington Book Review
“I was utterly charmed by the Seaside Knitters and their cozy community.”
—Laurien Berenson, bestselling author
About the Author
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Kayla Stewart leaned against the old tree. Its gnarled branches, shaped by decades of ocean winds and nor'easters pounding the miles of shoreline, creaked menacingly in the cold wet wind. She glanced across the yard at the gray Cardozo house as if she were seeing it for the first time. Two long windows stared back at her — glaring, judging, as if they already knew why she was there.
She turned away, dismissing the image, and looked around the property — the scrub bushes, a tree hugging the corner of the house, a narrow walkway. And acres that wound back to the dense woods and beyond.
The familiar terrain calmed her. A patch of garden was just visible along one side of the house, wedged between a gravel path and the gray siding. A row of nasturtiums Kayla had planted last spring outlined the walkway. She remembered tossing the seeds on a whim, willy-nilly, thinking a little color would provide a good vibe for the house. But it had surprised her when something beautiful came from her random gesture, the scattered seeds turning into leafy crimson and yellow plants. It had made her smile, and unless she had imagined it, had softened the homeowner's lined face, too.
Dolores Cardozo's face came to her now, the familiar lines and wrinkles etched in her mind — a face so dark and weathered from the elements that Kayla wasn't sure what nationality or race Dolores would claim as her heritage. When she asked her about it one day, Dolores had chuckled, the ambiguity seeming to please her. She never answered.
Was that face peering at her right this minute, as Dolores stood in the darkness, looking at her from one of the windows, her long white hair pulled back in a ponytail, or maybe loose, falling over her shoulders? Was she wondering why Kayla was standing in the wet chill of the day, no bundle of food in her arms?
The first day Kayla had made her way out to the Cardozo property, driving her old beat-up Chevy along the rutted roads, she had gotten lost, in spite of the clear directions given to her. A wrong turn had taken her to a patch of gravel, a parking spot alongside the road that led to several hiking paths. Kayla had parked the car and walked along one of the paths, long and narrow, curling through the woods until suddenly it all opened up to a vast clearing — a silent quarry filling the space. She had stood at the edge of the once active granite pit and stared down at a bottomless pool of water held intact by massive slabs of granite. The day had been crisp and clear, with sunlight reflecting off the water so white and bright she had to squint her eyes. It was one of the most beautiful sights Kayla Stewart had ever seen. She'd stood there for a long time, mesmerized by the black water, the sky above, and the air, crystallized into tiny diamonds.
Lucy in the sky with diamonds.
The song had hummed in her head that day. A good day. A new chapter in her life.
From then on she had welcomed the solitude that always met her at the Cardozo place. Her body would loosen, her shoulders relaxing and the tight kinks giving away to the space around her. It was a meditation, helping her think about her life as it slowly reassembled itself little by little, the pieces shifting and turning until they fit together in a comfortable way.
When she had shared the thought later with Sister Fiona, the nun had nodded in that way she had, and Kayla had seen the satisfied look on her face as if she were the one who had put the thought there to begin with. And then the slight lift at the corners of her wide mouth brought on by the incongruous thought of Kayla meditating at all.
On one of her trips to Dolores's home, she realized that next to the solitude and the woman in the small house, it was the unlocked doors that she liked. Unlocked doors and wild and free land with a silence so profound that she could hear her own heartbeat when she walked through it.
But tonight it was hard to hang on to that peace. It was flying around her like loose feathers, difficult to grasp.
The late afternoon shadows felt ominous with creatures crawling out from behind the trees, rattling Kayla's resolve. They fueled the burning in her chest, the discomfort, the distaste that coated her tongue. She wanted to be home cleaning up the kitchen. Reading Where the Red Fern Grows to the kids, all of them huddled together beneath a blanket, the soft warm bodies of Christopher and Sarah Grace making Kayla's heart hum.
Soon she'd be there. This wouldn't take long.
She forked her fingers through her short-cropped hair, then tugged a baseball cap on, frowning as spokes of black hair poked out. It had been a mistake to cut her hair so drastically. Sarah Grace had cried when she saw it. She said that she missed the long hair Kayla would let her twist into braids and tie ribbons around. She said it made her mother look like a boy.
She'd done it impulsively, the day she'd seen the photo in the paper. A picture of her. Her long black hair framing her face. The waves she could never control touching her cheeks. Thick, shiny black hair. The kind people wanted to touch. Striking, people said. Distinctive. Memorable.
All of the things Kayla didn't want to be. She didn't want anyone to remember. Ever.
But cutting her hair hadn't worked, and she had promised her daughter that she would let it grow. Hair grows fast, she had consoled Sarah Grace as she wiped away her tears.
The wind picked up and Kayla pulled the edges of her jacket tight. She wrapped her arms around herself. Some of the waitstaff at the Ocean's Edge Restaurant had told her she'd love September and October in Sea Harbor: late summer blooms, leaves beginning to turn, and most of all, the space that opened up in the town when summer people went back to Boston or New York or somewhere. The streets became their own again, the restaurants less crowded, the beaches wide and welcoming, the cool sand soothing.
But today had been damp and cold, not at all what had been promised.
Kayla rubbed away the bumps beneath the thin jacket fabric and tried to ignore the headache that began to pinch her face, tugging at her forehead and narrowing her eyes. She rubbed her temples, knowing before the headache took hold completely why it threatened. Favors tethered you to people, you owed them, no matter what. And what they'd ask of you in return could ruin your life.
The day Kayla turned eighteen, she had celebrated her birthday by running away from her last foster home in North Dakota. It was in the middle of a North Dakota snowstorm so blinding no one could have found her even if they had tried. She had vowed that day never to be dependent on anything or anyone again. Dependency brought pain and deception — and it eroded the bubble she tried so hard to construct around herself.
Depending on others wasn't necessarily a bad thing, she'd been told. Ask and you shall receive, Sister Fiona always said. Kayla had cringed at the words. She knew about favors — favors that beget favors, that stole her body and soul.
She admitted to herself there had been decent people along the way, like when she ended up in Idaho and a woman a few years older than herself had helped her out. Her name was Angel. Angel! Kayla had ridiculed the name, scoffed at it. But Angel had been tough, her life once a mess, just like Kayla's. Later on, Kayla came to understand that "Angel" had been a perfect name for the tough girl with the purple hair who believed anyone could pull themselves together if they decided to do it.
And sure, Sister Fiona, as bossy as she could be, was a part of the whole life raft deal. Maybe she was better than okay. Maybe she and Angel had saved her life.
After all, Fiona had brought her to Dolores.
Sea Harbor, Massachusetts, was a place for living, the nun had told Kayla. Sea Harbor was where problems could be solved. Where kids could thrive. Where pasts could be buried.
So she swallowed her fear and her secrets, buried them deep down inside her where no one would find them.
But someone had.
Kayla took a deep breath, curled her fingers into a ball and stared at the house. It was now or never. She needed to tell her what she had done. And then to beg . . .
She blocked from her mind what she'd do if it all fell apart.
And then, with steely resolve, she walked along the path, past the nasturtiums and the darkened windows, to the back door.
The door she knew was never locked.
The wind slammed the door shut behind Cass Halloran as she walked into the Harbor Road Laundromat. She bunched up a fistful of unruly dark hair, damp from the wet, salty air, and bound it with a scrunchie she pulled from her wrist.
Beneath an old sweatshirt, her stomach complained, reminding her that it had been hours since she had eaten. Quiet, she murmured. Nell's homemade lasagna is just minutes away. At least that's what her friend Izzy's texts had been promising her for the last hour. And that made the hunger bearable at least. Homemade. Even the lasagna noodles would be made from scratch, a fact that still puzzled Cass. Noodles were like crackers and baked beans. They came in boxes, cans, or bags. No one made them. But much to Cass's sublime happiness, Nell Endicott had proved every one of her assumptions wrong.
Earlier that day, Cass had made her own plans for the evening. She'd finish the company laundry and race home, out of the chilly night, to a waiting Danny Brandley, who would warm her up nicely in the cozy seaside house where they co-lived, a term a relative had recently — and pointedly — coined. Her fiancé would massage her feet while she'd stretch out in front of a fire he'd have laid. A fire in September, unheard of, but it sounded perfect and wonderful and there was plenty of cut wood out near the garage.
She was bone weary. Probably, she told herself, because it was Saturday — a day off — and instead she'd spent the day putting out fires. Everything seemed to have gone wrong at the Halloran Lobster Company that day — including a breakdown of the commercial washer and dryer they used for nets and sweatshirts, towels, and all things smelling of fish. Which was nearly everything. So she had dragged them all to the Laundromat, then run errands while waiting for the machines to do their thing. She hoped the bad day wasn't an omen. Nor the reason her weariness had a touch of worry attached to it. Silly. All would be better once she got home.
And that's when her friend Izzy's texts started messing with her plans.
Nell is cooking lasagna. Says we should get over there ASAP. There'll be champagne. Pick me up at my yarn shop.
Danny followed up with
Hey, babe. The Endicotts are feeding us. I know you were dead set on my grilled cheese. I'll make it up to you.
So Danny was headed to Ben and Nell's, too. It was all about homemade lasagna and champagne.
The group of friends had missed their usual Friday night dinner at Ben and Nell's because the couple was out of town for the day. Friday night dinner was a ritual born when the Endicotts had retired and settled permanently in Sea Harbor. It had become a comforting staple in Cass's life, right along with the older couple themselves, more family now than friends. Maybe that's what this was about — Nell feeling guilty, knowing that none of them took canceling dinner on the Endicott deck lightly. It was therapy and friendship and amazing food all mixed up together in one bundle — something they all held sacred.
Sure, that was it. And that was fine with Cass. Few things outdid Danny's foot massages, but Nell's cooking might be one of them. Champagne? she texted back to Danny. You're kidding me? Her fiancé knew she hated champagne, but the thought of lasagna caused her stomach to dance.
Danny sent two kissing, carefree emoticons back.
She stuck her phone in her pocket and set her laundry basket beneath the round door of the dryer, pulled it open, her mind still on the lasagna. And beer. Ben would most certainly have beer. Who drank champagne with lasagna?
She pulled out a damp towel, grimaced, and tossed it back in. Next she felt something fuzzy and pulled out a small pink sweater, its buttons caught in a ratty fisherman's net. She pulled them apart and stared at the clothing. It was soft and pretty and tiny. Nicely hand knit.
Cass frowned, then reached in and pulled out another net, this one tangled up with a small plaid skirt. Cass leaned over and looked in, then pulled out a pair of boy's jeans and several other small garments.
She glanced around the room. The harsh fluorescent lights lit up every corner. She was completely alone. Even the girl who usually worked nights was absent, most likely having a burger and beer across the street at Jake Risso's tavern.
Cass felt a peculiar twist in her stomach, an unexpected pang that something was wrong. Then just as quickly, realization dawned and she tried to lighten up. Well sure. A busy mom ran out of change and found a creative solution — Cass's dryer was going strong so she had tossed in her own items, probably thinking she'd be back before Cass. Creative, Cass thought, something she herself had done once or twice in college. But the poor woman was in for a surprise if that pretty pink sweater ended up making her daughter smell like a lobster.
The imagined scenario somewhat easing the tension she felt, Cass mounded all the damp clothes back into the dryer and slipped a couple more quarters into the slot. She listened for the familiar tumbling of the net hooks against the dryer drum, and stretched her toned shoulders back, working out the kinks. Though Cass did little exercise, lifting lobster traps and machinery kept her lean and trim — and strong — a fact new members of her crusty fishermen crew figured out quickly when they'd find themselves misled by her lovely Irish face with its long lashes and prominent cheekbones. She headed for a chair across the room and sat down, stretching her legs out in front of her. Buy new jeans, she thought, the permanent saltwater stains at the edges of her jeans looking shiny in the glare of the fluorescent light.
A large clock near the washing machines reminded her of how late it was. They'd all be as hungry as she was. She sent Izzy a message to go on without her, but her friend refused.
Don't be a martyr, Izzy replied. I'll wait. Birdie's coming too, and bringing wine and Ella's brownies. Something about a surprise.
Ella's brownies? Cass's stomach reacted instantly. Buttermilk, Valrhona chocolate, rich, gooey frosting. Birdie Favazza had stopped cooking long before her seventy-fifth — or was it her eightieth? — birthday, but her amazing housekeeper, Ella, spared no calories or expense in making perfect brownies. Only when Cass had exhausted the mental taste of the brownies did she consider the rest of the message.
A surprise? What is that about? Good news, she supposed, which would account for the champagne, though Izzy seemed slightly rattled, if one could be rattled in a text. Maybe she was just hungry, too.
Cass stretched her legs out in front of her, leaned her head against the wall, and closed her eyes briefly, her attention going back to the noisy dryer and the delicate sweater inside, vying with the menacing lobster nets. She had a sudden urge to take it out, rescue it, keep it safe for a little girl who liked pink. Then she rolled her head against the wall and scolded herself for conjuring up a story about nothing.
Outside branches slapped against the front windows. Cass looked over, hoping to see a woman in exercise clothes race in, maybe leaving a kid in a soccer uniform sitting in the back of the car. She'd scoop out her clothes and head home to the rest of her family. The thought comforted Cass briefly, but she couldn't completely push away the irrational worry that the sweater was lost, tumbling around in a stranger's dryer.
And the troubled thoughts wouldn't go away. Would a mother come all the way to the Laundromat with so few clothes and on such a crummy night? And all kids' clothes, no tights or underwear or ...
Still she hoped for the mom, but no one rushed through the front door settling Cass's crazy thoughts. All she saw through the windows were swaying branches on the pear tree at the curb and a flickering of lamplights.
Excerpted from "Murder Wears Mittens"
Copyright © 2017 Sally Goldenbaum.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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