When murder strikes the small town of Tallulah Falls, embroidery shop owner Marcy Singer isn’t afraid of getting down to the knitty-gritty to clear her name....
For most small-business owners in Tallulah Falls, the upcoming Renaissance Faire is a wonderful way to promote their specialty shops. For Marcy’s nemesis, Nellie, and her sister, Clara, it’s an opportunity to finally put Marcy and her shop, the Seven-Year Stitch, out of business. Apparently the sisters like to make grudges a family affair and have set up competing booths right next to Marcy’s at the Ren Faire.
When Clara is discovered dead in her own booth—strangled by the scarf she had almost finished knitting—Marcy becomes the prime suspect. Now she has to do whatever it takes to keep her reputation from unraveling—and get to the bottom of a most deadly yarn....
About the Author
Amanda Lee is a full-time cozy mystery writer and author of three cozy mystery series: the Myrtle Crumb mysteries, including When Good Bras Go Bad and Claus of Death; the Daphne Martin Cake mysteries, including Dead Pan, Killer Sweet Tooth, and Battered to Death; and the Embroidery mysteries, including Thread End, The Long Stitch Good Night, Thread on Arrival, and Cross-Stitch Before Dying. She is married and has two gorgeous children. Like Marcy, she enjoys needlecrafts and pop culture.
Read an Excerpt
PRAISE FOR AMANDA LEE’S EMBROIDERY MYSTERIES
Also by Amanda Lee
I was sitting at the sewing machine in my office working on a Renaissance costume for my best friend, Sadie MacKenzie. My dog, Angus, an Irish wolfhound, was lying in the hall. The office was a bit cramped for him. Plus, he liked to be able to see what was happening in the main part of the embroidery shop I own . . . which wasn’t much that day.
The shop is called the Seven-Year Stitch, and in fact it was Sadie who had urged me to leave San Francisco and move to the Oregon coast to open the shop. Sadie and her husband, Blake, own MacKenzies’ Mochas, a coffee shop just down the street from the Stitch.
It was mid-September, which meant that all the kids were back at school and there weren’t as many vacationers visiting the coast. Also, everyone was busy preparing for the upcoming Renaissance Faire.
The festival was starting this weekend and would be going on for the next two weeks. The theme was Macbeth, so, of course, someone dressed up as William Shakespeare would be on hand. There would be a king and a queen; Macbeth and Lady Macbeth; Hecate, Queen of the Witches; and the three creepy soothsayers who foretold Duncan’s doom would be there to tell Faire-goers their fortunes. There would be jousting, human chess games, minstrels, faeries, pirates, and all manner of merchants. The Faire was to culminate with Macbeth murdering the king and then being killed by Macduff.
Every merchant I knew—as well as many others—in Tallulah Falls and the outlying region was planning to take part in the Ren Faire. Julie, a woman who took embroidery classes from me, would be coming in Friday to cover for me so I could go get my booth set up. She and her teenage daughter, Amber, would be taking care of the store on Saturday, and then Julie herself would be in charge for the next two weeks while I sold supplies and embroidery pieces at the festival.
Sadie and Blake were taking turns manning a booth and running their shop. Todd Calloway, of the Brew Crew, was setting up a booth, and Captain Moe—he of the delicious burgers and shakes—would be making all our corsets too tight.
I was really looking forward to the event. My mom was a costume designer, so she’d sent patterns for the outfits I’d been making for Sadie and myself. Since Sadie and I would be simple merchants, our costumes weren’t all that fancy. But they were still beautiful. I loved the feeling of going back in time.
I had both a red and a blue jacquard skirt, a black velvet corset vest, and two cream-colored off-the-shoulder peasant blouses. I also had a very simple square-necked green velvet floor-length gown with gold brocade trim. I figured I might be pushing the “merchant” envelope a little with that last dress, but I didn’t want to wear the same thing every day.
Sadie’s outfits leaned more toward tavern wench costumes. Like me, she had two peasant blouses and two skirts—one brown and one yellow. She also had a black vest, but hers had laces and tied at the bottom. Since Blake—who said he’d go as a pirate or not dressed up at all—would be alternating days with Sadie, she wanted only the two outfits.
I was finishing up her yellow skirt when the bells over the door jingled and Angus leapt to his feet.
“I’ll be right there!” I called. I quickly finished sewing the seam I was working on, then walked out into the shop.
It was Sadie.
“Hi! You’re just in time to try on your yellow skirt,” I said. My smile faded as I noticed the scowl on Sadie’s lovely face.
“What?” I asked. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m so mad I could spit!” She ran both hands through her long dark hair and paced in front of the window. “I cannot believe the nerve of that woman!”
“Who? What’s going on?” I went over and took her by the shoulders. “Calm down and tell me about it.”
“Nellie Davis was in the coffee shop just now,” said Sadie.
Nellie Davis had been a thorn in my side ever since I’d moved to Tallulah Falls. Her sister had wanted to lease the space the Stitch was now in, but Sadie had snapped it up for me before anyone else could lay claim to it. Then, after I’d found the former tenant dead in my storeroom, Nellie had said the Seven-Year Stitch was bad for everyone else’s business and had gone on to say all kinds of other mean things about me and my shop. I hated to think that Sadie’s friendship with me had turned the shrewish Nellie against her as well.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “What did she do to you?”
“It’s not what she did . . . and she didn’t do it to me.” Sadie uttered a growl of frustration. “She said her sister, Clara, is leasing the now-vacant shop between Nellie’s shop and yours.”
“Great. Now I’ll have two neighbors to hate on me and the Stitch.”
I’d met Nellie’s sister a couple of months before when she’d angrily accused me of spreading gossip about Nellie. I’d done no such thing, but Clara had refused to believe me.
“That’s not the half of it,” Sadie said. “Clara is planning on selling knitting, crochet, and quilting supplies!”
I gasped. “She can’t do that! Can she? That puts her in direct competition with me!”
“I don’t know if she’s within her legal rights or not, but the very idea of it makes me so angry I can hardly stand it!”
“She and Nellie are trying to put me out of business, aren’t they?” I asked softly.
“I don’t care what they’re trying to do. They will not put you out of business. The people of Tallulah Falls are loyal to you. Your customers won’t stand for this.”
I nodded, carefully keeping my eyes on the floor.
Sadie pulled me into a hug. “Are you all right?”
I nodded again, patted Sadie’s back, and then disengaged from the hug. “So . . . you wanna try on that skirt?”
“I have to get back,” she said. “I’ll come check it out in a little while.”
“Okay.” I managed a smile as Sadie left.
I turned and glanced at Angus, who was lying with his head on his paws, looking up at me apprehensively. Something was upsetting me, so he was upset, too.
“Everything’s fine,” I told him.
But he wasn’t easily fooled. As I sank onto the navy blue sofa facing away from the window, he came and placed his wiry gray head on my thigh. I stroked his fur and let my eyes wander around the shop.
I’d opened the Seven-Year Stitch a little less than a year ago, and I was proud of the progress I’d made. It was a beautiful space. To the right of the front door was the sit-and-stitch square. In addition to the sofa on which I was sitting, its twin faced me across a maple oval coffee table. Beneath the table was a cozy red and blue braided rug. The other two sides of the “square” were made up of red club chairs and matching ottomans.
The left side of the shop was filled with embroidery supplies: flosses, needles, pattern books, hoops, frames, and canvas. I also sold yarn, knitting needles, crochet hooks, and cotton batting for quilts, since the Stitch was—or, at least, had been—the only shop of its kind in Tallulah Falls.
On the walls were embroidery projects I’d completed—some in frames, some in hoops. I’d also made candlewick pillows and placed them on the sofas, and I’d embellished outfits for Jill, the mannequin who bears a striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe and stands near the cash register.
Today Jill wore a Juliet-inspired empire-waist gown of light blue velvet with gold trim, a white lace inset at the bodice, and white lace–and-gold trim on the sleeves. She had a matching velvet headpiece wrapped with gold cord, and a sheer tulle veil spilled down her back.
I sighed. I was all for free enterprise, but Nellie’s sister was going to be directly competing with the Seven-Year Stitch right next door!
I picked up my cell phone and called my attorney friend, Riley Kendall. Riley’s mom, Camille, was her administrative assistant, and she answered the phone.
“Good morning, Ms. Patrick,” I said. “This is Marcy Singer. Is Riley available?”
“No, Marcy, dear. She’s in a meeting at the moment. May I have her return your call?”
“Please . . . Well, actually, you might be able to answer my question.” I quickly told her about Clara’s plans for the shop next door to mine and how I thought—hoped—there might be some noncompete clause that would force her to pursue some other retail avenue.
She paused, and I heard regret in her voice when she finally answered. “Noncompete clauses are made between companies and their employees or between corporations and their subsidiaries.”
“So she’s acting within her rights,” I said flatly.
“I’m afraid so,” said Ms. Patrick. “I’ll still have Riley call you when she’s free, though. She might be able to work around this some other way.”
I thanked Ms. Patrick and ended the call. I’d appreciate hearing from Riley, but I seriously doubted there was anything I could do to keep Clara from setting up shop, rallying her troops, and trying to destroy my business.
I supposed I could take the high road and welcome Clara to the neighborhood when her shop opened. Maybe she would learn to like me and we could find a way to work together. And maybe—somehow, somewhere—pigs could fly.
Still, moping wasn’t going to solve anything. I got up and went back to the office to finish Sadie’s skirt.
* * *
Detective Ted Nash, my boyfriend extraordinaire, brought lunch at around one o’clock. Angus and I had spotted him walking up the street and could see that he was carrying a bag from MacKenzies’ Mochas. Sadie and Blake made the best chicken salad croissants, and I had a feeling that was what Ted and I would be having for lunch.
Ted was gorgeous. A good foot and two inches taller than my towering height of five feet, he was broad and muscular and had thick dark hair that was wonderful to run your fingers through . . . well, my fingers through. He had the most intensely beautiful blue eyes ever. He would have made my heart soar even if he’d been carrying a sack of snakes. But food from MacKenzies’ Mochas was way better than snakes.
When he walked through the door, he was accosted by both Angus and me. Angus was sniffing at the bag.
I giggled. “Please tell me you brought the chicken salad.”
“I did. Sadie texted me earlier and said she thought you might be in need of your favorite comfort food today.” He held the bag out of Angus’s reach and dropped a quick kiss on my lips.
I led the way into my office. “Water, soda, or juice?”
“I’ll take water, please,” he said. “You want to talk about it, or are we avoiding the subject?”
“We’re avoiding the subject,” I said firmly, as I took a diet soda and a bottle of water from the minifridge. I handed Ted the water and unscrewed the cap on my soda. I took a sip and sat down at the desk across from Ted. “I just think Nellie and her sister have a lot of nerve, that’s all. I know they schemed this up together to try to run me out of Tallulah Falls. But they won’t succeed. And that’s all I have to say on the matter. You don’t think they’ll succeed, do you?”
“I know they won’t.” Ted took the croissants out of the bag and placed them on the desk. “Oh, Sadie sent brownies, too.” He set the brownies beside the croissants.
“That was very thoughtful of her,” I said. “At least I have good neighbors to offset the bad ones . . . the ones who despise me. And what have I ever done to Nellie Davis? Or her sister, for that matter?”
Ted carefully avoided my eyes and opened the box containing his croissant. “I don’t know, babe.”
“We are so not talking about this and letting it spoil our lunch,” I said. “How has your day been?”
“Fairly uneventful so far,” he said. “I’m going through a cold case from five years ago, since—thankfully—there’s not an open case I’m working on at the moment.”
“That is good. Is it a murder case?” I bit into my croissant.
Ted nodded. “Hopefully, I’ll find some new evidence, and either we’ll be able to convict the person who was our main suspect or we’ll discover that it was someone else.”
“It must be hard to try to uncover anything new in a five-year-old case,” I said.
“It can be. But sometimes people are more willing to talk because they aren’t as afraid of suffering any repercussions as they are right after a crime has been committed.”
“That makes sense.” I tore off a piece of my croissant for Angus. “If there’s anything I can do to help, let me know.” I knew there wasn’t, but I wanted to be polite and offer. “And if you come in here and find me dead, that case won’t have time to get cold. If they’re not still standing over my corpse, just run next door, where Nellie and Clara will probably be dancing with joy—and the murder weapons.”
“I’m really glad we decided not to talk about the situation with Nellie’s sister,” Ted said with a grin. “I think it would’ve really brought us down.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m trying so hard not to think about it . . . but I can’t help but think about it!”
He chuckled. “I know, sweetheart. I’m just teasing you. Want me to go over and arrest Clara?”
“Yes. Do you have any grounds?”
He thought a moment. “No. I’m afraid upsetting the woman I love isn’t a crime, although it certainly should be.”
I smiled. “I love you, too. And I know everything will be okay. We’ve weathered worse storms than this, right?”
“Exactly. This is nothing my Inch-High Private Eye can’t handle.”
“So stop worrying about it already and tell me what we’re doing tonight,” I said.
He gave a big, dramatic sigh. “All right, I’ll do my best. As for tonight, let’s make dinner together and then watch a movie.”
“Sounds wonderful to me.”
I resolved then and there not to give Clara’s shop another thought. Unfortunately, I knew it would be like a New Year’s resolution—I’d start out strong and then cave by the next day.
On a drizzly day exactly one week later, when I took Angus for his midmorning walk, I knew I shouldn’t have walked past Clara’s and Nellie’s shops, but it was a habit. I almost always took Angus up the street to the square. To be perfectly honest, everybody’s dog peed near the base of the large wrought-iron clock. It was a sure bet that Angus would go there, sniff, pee, and be ready to return to the Stitch.
As we were walking back, I saw movers unloading boxes into Clara’s shop. One of them stopped to speak to Angus and to tell me what a handsome dog I had.
I thanked him. “It looks like the proprietor will be setting up shop pretty soon,” I said.
Clara, her meaty arms crossed at her ample bosom, appeared at the door. “That I will, Miss Nosy Pants.”
The movers looked confused and uncomfortable.
“Well . . . good luck,” I said. I was talking more to the movers than I was to Clara.
Angus and I sidestepped the movers and went on back to the Stitch.
We hadn’t been back five minutes when Vera Langhorne stormed into the shop. Fists on her hips, she kept shaking her head and sending her professionally highlighted blond bob flying in all directions.
Angus didn’t know what all the fuss was about, but he sought refuge in his bed beneath the counter.
“I cannot believe this! I can’t believe it!” Vera ranted. “Just who in the world does that Clara think she is, setting up a shop called Knitted and Needled? I’d like to needle her right in her big old butt!”
I laughed. “Thank you, Vera. But I’m sure Tallulah Falls can accommodate both an embroidery shop and whatever needlecrafts Clara will be selling.”
She huffed. “I could have Paul do some sort of exposé on Clara. She’s mean as the devil. Surely she’s hiding some deep dark secrets we could use to run her out of town.”
Vera dated Paul Samms, a journalist for the Tallulah Falls Examiner.
“That would make us just as bad as she and Nellie are,” I said to Vera. “I appreciate your concern; I really do. But we have more important things to think about. Tell me about your Ren Faire costume.”
Vera’s attitude quickly changed. “Oh, Marcy, it’s incredible. Paul is going as a minstrel, and I’m going as a noble lady. My dress is gold brocade with a square neckline and rounded shoulder pad thingies with puffy sleeves. And I’m wearing a matching Tudor French hood. I mean, it’s not a hood like you pull up over your head in winter, it’s . . .” She struggled to describe the Renaissance headgear.
“I know exactly what you’re talking about,” I said. “My mom is a costumer, remember?”
“Of course.” She rolled her eyes. “Sometimes I can be dense. Still, it’s a lovely gown, and I just can’t come up with all the words to describe it. You’ll have to see it for yourself.”
“I’m sure it’s beautiful and that you’ll look stunning in it.” I smiled.
“I hope Paul thinks so.” She giggled. “Wait until you see his costume.”
“He’s a minstrel, right?”
She nodded. “But he looks like a little pumpkin in it!”
I joined in her laughter.
“I can’t imagine Paul as a pumpkin,” I said. “He’s too thin.”
“He doesn’t seem to be in that blousy surcoat with the huge white ruffled collar. He’s wearing black tights and black felt shoes with it. Thank goodness he isn’t wearing green tights and that he has nice legs.”
“What instrument is he taking along?”
“A lute,” she said. “And it’s not just for show. He can play the darned thing. I hummed ‘Greensleeves’ all day yesterday after he left the house.”
“I can hardly wait to see the two of you,” I said. “You’ll look wonderful.”
She smiled. “I think it’ll be loads of fun.”
“I started to make Angus one of those huge ruffled collars. I don’t think he’d appreciate it, though.”
“I don’t think he would, either.” She clucked her tongue. “You can come out and see me now, Angus. I’ve calmed down.”
He peeped furtively from behind the counter.
Vera laughed. “Come here, boy. Let me love your sweet head before I leave.”
Angus trotted over and allowed Vera to hug his neck.
“You’re such a good boy,” she said. She pulled back and smoothed the hair out of his big brown eyes. “You’re a good, good boy.”
He rewarded her with a kiss on the nose.
“I forgot to ask. Did you need anything or did you just stop in to rant?” I asked.
“I was mad,” she said. “That’s not to say that I won’t remember something I wanted as soon as I leave, but if I do I’ll be back.”
As Vera stood up to leave, an elderly woman entered the shop. I instinctively took hold of Angus before he could exuberantly greet the newcomer and accidentally knock her down.
“Hello,” I said. “Welcome to the Seven-Year Stitch.”
“What a big dog!” the woman exclaimed. “I’ve always loved big dogs. May I pet him?”
“Of course.” I still held Angus. By the looks of this tiny birdlike woman, a strong breeze would knock her off her feet. A one-hundred-fifty-pound dog could certainly do so.
She came over and patted Angus on the head.
“I’ll talk with you later, Marcy!” Vera called on her way out the door.
“I’ve come to ask if you have any Point de Beauvais embroidery patterns or kits,” the woman said.
“I don’t have either,” I said, “but I’ll be happy to order something for you. Let’s go into my office and see what’s available from my distributors.”
I led Angus, and the woman followed us into my office.
“Oh, what a lovely skirt,” she said upon seeing Sadie’s skirt hanging near the ironing board.
“Thank you,” I said. “I made it for a friend to wear at the Renaissance Festival. Are you going?”
“I am. That’s why I’m so interested in Point de Beauvais,” she said. “You see, this form of embroidery came to France via Italy in the late Middle Ages through China’s trade routes.”
I had little knowledge of Point de Beauvais needlework, but I was eager to help my customer find something. According to the Point de Beauvais Embroidery at Bourg-le-Roi Web site, Point de Beauvais is an intricate process all around. The pattern must be traced onto paper. The paper is then pricked with a needle along the tracing lines, and ink is added to the cloth through the holes. The thread is worked with a very fine crochet hook. The site noted that the best examples of Point de Beauvais resemble paintings.
I was able to find a pattern book, but it was written in French. From a discussion forum on a needlecraft magazine’s Web site, we learned that Point de Beauvais was known as tambour embroidery in English. I found a pattern book that included tambour embroidery and another book on eighteenth-century embroidery techniques that mentioned tambour in the description, but there wasn’t very much specific to this ancient technique.
The woman had me order both books, and I told her they’d be in by Monday. I ordered a few additional copies of the one on eighteenth-century embroidery techniques because I thought it might sell at the Ren Faire.
My customer—whose name was Ms. Fields—gave me her number so I could call her when her books arrived. I walked her to the door and held it open. She truly appeared so frail that I felt particularly protective of her. I thanked her for coming in as she started off down the street.
Clara, who’d apparently been standing in the doorway of her shop, darted out onto the sidewalk to intercept the poor dear.
“Didn’t she have what you were looking for?” Clara asked. “Come on in here and I’ll see if I can’t help you out.”
“Now, wait a second,” I said, pulling my door closed so that Angus wouldn’t run out into the street. “I ordered what Ms. Fields needed.”
“That’s all right,” said Ms. Fields. “I might as well browse this shop while I’m in town.”
I managed a stiff smile. “Of course. Good luck.”
“Please excuse the mess,” Clara said. “I’ve just started unpacking boxes. My shop is brand, spanking new, you see.”
I went back into the Stitch.
With a growl of frustration, I retrieved the laptop from my office and carried it to the sit-and-stitch square. Maybe I should beef up my marketing. There might be a new shop in town, but shouldn’t customers put their trust in an experienced shop?
I pulled up the Seven-Year Stitch Web page. The header featured a photo of Angus lying on the floor near the counter. The embroidery supplies and some of my projects were visible in the background. It was a good picture. I liked it. But was it dynamic enough to draw customers in?
Maybe I needed to have a contest or something using social media. That might work. I could do a giveaway in conjunction with the upcoming Renaissance Faire. But what?
I called Mom for inspiration.
“Hey, Mom,” I said when she answered.
“That was the most lackluster Hey, Mom I’ve ever heard,” she said. “What’s wrong?”
“You know Nellie Davis?” I asked.
“That nasty little woman who owns the aromatherapy shop? What’s the name of it again? Scentsless?”
“Close,” I said. “It’s Scentsibilities. Anyway, her sister, Clara, has leased the shop next to the Seven-Year Stitch.”
“Oh, great. So you’ll have two harpies to deal with.”
“That’s not the half of it. Clara’s shop is called Knitted and Needled, and she’s going to be selling knitting, crochet, and quilting supplies.”
“Well, more power to her,” Mom said. “You aren’t afraid of a little competition.”
“Right. I’m not. It’s just that Clara tried to steal one of my new customers away as soon as she left my shop!”
“Did you sell something to the customer?” she asked.
“I ordered two books for her about tambour embroidery,” I said.
“Tambour . . . hmmm . . . I haven’t thought about tambour embroidery in years. It’s rather difficult to do, if I recall correctly.”
“It looked a bit tricky to me. But what do you think about Clara?” I wanted my mom to rant and rave like Vera had. I wanted her to tell me not to let Clara bully me. I wanted her to make me chocolate chip cookies and let me eat them warm from the oven. I wanted her to hug me and say that everything would be all right.
“Oh, I know Clara is difficult . . . especially if she’s anything like Nellie,” she said.
“She’s even worse than Nellie.”
“My precious darling,” Mom said soothingly. “Let it go. You can’t control what others do—only what you do. Continue providing your customers the best products and service you can, and everything else will take care of itself.”
“Do you really think so?” I asked.
“I know so. Do you realize how many costumers in Hollywood would love to have my job?” she asked. “Do you know how many costuming jobs that I’d have loved to have gone to someone else? And yet the world keeps turning. There’s room for all of us if we’re dedicated.”
“I know. I’m your mother. I’m always right,” she said. “How’s the baby?”
I looked over at Angus, who was sleeping by the window. “He’s fine. He says we need another care package soon. He’s almost out of those bacon treats you make for him.”
“Tell him I’ll see what I can do,” she said.
“I was thinking of running some sort of contest in conjunction with the Ren Faire in order to drum up business,” I said. “What do you think?”
“It would be awfully hard for you to try to keep things running smoothly at the shop, manage a booth at the festival, and execute a contest,” she said. “My advice is to not spread yourself too thin. Don’t panic over Nellie’s sister opening a shop. Just keep doing what you’re doing, and see how it goes for the first few months.”
“Okay. That sounds like a good plan.”
“How are preparations for the festival coming along?” she asked.
“They’re going really well. I’m finished with my costumes, and I’m working on Sadie’s last one today. She’s been swamped the past few days, but she needs to come by and try on her skirt so I can see where to hem it,” I said. “The blackwork class has been really popular, so I’ve made flyers with free blackwork patterns and I’ll be giving those away.”
“I think that’s an excellent idea. It’s a nice way to reward your current customers and to introduce yourself to potential new ones.”
Later I was ringing up a woman’s purchase of several skeins of embroidery floss when Riley Kendall walked through the door. Riley has black hair, blue eyes, and a mischievous smile. She was carrying her seven-month-old baby, Laura, who was adorable in her pink sweater and matching hat.
As I completed the transaction, my customer fawned over Laura. She was such a pretty baby. Who could help but smile and coo at her?
When the woman left with her periwinkle Seven-Year Stitch bag in hand, I stepped around the counter and held out my arms. Laura reached for me, and Riley handed her over.
Angus came to sit at my feet, looking up adoringly at the little angel.
“I’m glad to see you’re in such good spirits,” Riley said. “After hearing about Clara’s shop opening, I was afraid I’d have to talk you down from a ledge somewhere.”
I laughed. “I was rather upset over the whole thing, and then my mom made me see reason. She reminded me that everybody has competition and that all I can do is run my shop to the best of my ability and hope my customers appreciate that.”
“Your mom is one smart lady,” said Riley.
“Yes, she is.”
“Still, don’t be a doormat.” Riley held up her index finger. “If Clara is trying to sell something that you know comes from your distributors, she might be in violation of their noncompete clauses. For instance, some companies assert in their contracts that retailers within a certain distance from each other cannot sell the same products. That’s why only one store in the mall carries Crazy Kitty products.”
“I’ll keep an eye out,” I promised. “Still, I’m not as concerned about Clara and her shop as I was this morning.” I looked at Laura. “You know, she would make the most incredible faerie baby on the planet. Let’s dress her up for the Faire!”
“I already have the outfit,” Riley said with a grin.
I was so glad it was Monday and that Angus and I were on our way home. I taught embroidery classes every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening from six to eight o’clock. But I was thrilled not to be going back to the Stitch this evening. I needed to decompress, figure out how to truly deal with Clara being right next door, drink wine, and eat chocolate.
Mom had absolutely been right on the money when she’d said I couldn’t let a little competition get to me. But it wasn’t the competition that bothered me—it was the fact that Clara and her sister hated my guts and would love to see me run out of town on a rail.
I pulled the Jeep into the driveway of my two-story white home. I grabbed Angus’s leash and snapped it onto his collar before allowing him to get out of the backseat. He stopped to pee en route to the door, probably to let any other dogs wandering around the neighborhood know he was home.
We went into the house, and I dropped my keys onto a tray on the table in the foyer and hung the leash on a peg. Angus trotted on into the kitchen, knowing very well that it was dinnertime. I plodded after him, kissed him on top of the head, and then filled his bowl with kibble.
I went upstairs and filled the tub with hot water and fragrant bubble bath. I stripped, put my clothes in the hamper, and sank into the tub even before it finished filling. My skin quickly adjusted to the temperature of the water, and I let the flow wash over my toes. I turned off the faucet, lay back in the tub, and closed my eyes.
How I wished I could find a way to make peace with Clara and Nellie. I harbored no illusions that the three of us could ever become bosom buddies—going to lunch, bringing one another coffee, sharing gossip over the proverbial back fence. But surely we could coexist without trying to best or belittle each other on a regular basis. Couldn’t we? I knew neither Clara nor Nellie would ever extend the olive branch to me, but maybe I could come up with a way to show them that I truly believed—and I did . . . for the most part—that Tallulah Falls was big enough for all three of us.
It was Ted calling to me from the bottom of the stairs.
“I’ll be right down!”
“Take your time,” he shouted. “I’ll let Angus out and start dinner!”
He was absolutely the most wonderful man ever.
I finished my bath, slipped on a fluffy terry robe, and padded downstairs. Ted was at the blue granite counter dicing tomatoes on a wooden cutting board.
I eased up behind him and slid my arms around his waist.
“Mmmm . . . you smell great.” He turned and gave me an appreciative grin. “And I adore this dress you’re wearing.” He used the belt of my robe to pull me even closer for a heart-thumping kiss.
“Could you maybe put the knife down?” I asked. “You’re making me a little nervous with that thing.”
He chuckled. “Of course. I forgot I was still holding it. See? You drive me to distraction.”
“I’m glad,” I said with a smile. “We could both use some distraction tonight.”
“But first . . . what’re we having for dinner?”
I noticed he had a couple pots on the stove, and the aromas of oregano, garlic, basil, and rosemary were making me salivate. Or maybe it was Ted standing there with his dress shirt open at the throat and his sleeves rolled up to his elbows—and the way his pants emphasized his trim waist and tight butt—that was making me start to drool. Either way, it was a tantalizing combo—gorgeous man in my kitchen cooking a delicious meal. Heaven on earth.
“We’re having baked Parmesan garlic chicken breasts and new potatoes with herbs,” Ted said. “Sound good?”
“Sounds wonderful.” We’d both been working on our cooking skills lately. Ted seemed to have more of a knack for some things than I did. He was really good with Italian dishes. “What can I do to help?”
“You can relax. You’ve had a rough day.”
“And you probably have, too,” I said. “Going through a five-year-old cold case file can’t be easy. How about I whip up some dessert?”
“Way ahead of you, Inch-High.” He nodded toward my large square table. In the middle of the table was a small box from MacKenzies’ Mochas.
I cocked my head. “Let me guess. Two fudge brownies?”
“And a peanut butter cookie for Angus.” He winked. “Gotta take care of my boy.”
“Have I mentioned how incredible you are?” I asked.
“Not lately. But we can talk about it after dinner. . . . And remember, actions really do speak louder than words.”
* * *
Ted and I had enjoyed a really stellar evening, and I was in particularly high spirits when Angus and I arrived at the Seven-Year Stitch Tuesday morning. My buoyancy was short-lived, however.
I’d been at work about half an hour and was busily restocking the embroidery floss bins when Nellie Davis paid me a visit. As always, her short gray hair was sticking out in all directions. Some women used wax on their short hair to give themselves an edgy, piece-y look—I’d done that myself on occasion—but there was no rhyme or reason to Nellie’s coif. She looked as if she’d rolled out of bed late and hadn’t had time to even run a comb through her hair before coming to work.
She wore her usual black-on-black ensemble, which made her seem even paler and thinner than she could possibly be. The only spot of color Nellie entertained was the red-rimmed glasses perched on her hawkish nose.
Recalling last night’s bathtub resolution, I pasted on a smile and made a desperate attempt at a peace-generating greeting.
“Good morning, Nellie. Thank you for dropping in. Would you like a cup of coffee?”
She eyed me suspiciously. “No . . . er . . . no, thank you.” She scratched her chin. “So what do you think of Clara’s shop?”
“I haven’t had an opportunity to stop in yet and welcome her to the neighborhood,” I said. “Is everything all set up?”
“Almost.” Nellie glanced around the shop and then snorted. “It’s nice that people will have an alternative to this place for their sewing notions.”
I refused to take the bait. “I believe it speaks well of needlecrafts and of people’s continued interest in the art that Tallulah Falls will be able to adequately accommodate our two successful shops.”
She sniffed. “I suppose we’ll see about that.”
“I suppose we will.”
At that point, my dear friend Rajani “Reggie” Singh burst into the Stitch. Reggie, Tallulah Falls’s librarian and wife of chief of police Manu Singh, also has short gray hair. Unlike Nellie’s, however, Reggie’s is always elegantly styled to fit her refined persona. This morning Reggie wore a mint green tunic over matching slacks.
Angus, who’d not acknowledged Nellie’s presence, hurried over to greet Reggie.
She laughed as she rubbed the dog’s head with both hands. “And a good morning to you, Angus! Hi, Marcy . . . Nellie.”
“Reggie, it’s so great to see you,” I said.
“I’ll go now so you can wait on your customer,” Nellie told me. She opened her mouth as if there was something else she intended to say, but then she closed it again. With a curt nod, she left.
My body sagged with relief. “I was serious about how glad I am to see you.”
“I know. I was actually on my way to MacKenzies’ Mochas and saw Nellie come into your shop. I found a parking space as quickly as I could and came to rescue you.”
“Thank you. You don’t know how much I appreciate that. It’s certainly not up to MacKenzies’ Mochas’ standards, but I’ll be happy to get you a cup of coffee.”
“That sounds nice,” Reggie said. She went over and took a seat in one of the red club chairs.
I poured us each a cup of coffee and arranged the cups, spoons, packets of sweetener, and individual cream pitchers on a tray and took it out to the sit-and-stitch square. I put the tray on the coffee table and sat on the sofa facing the window.
“I heard about Clara moving in next door,” Reggie said as she emptied a packet of sweetener into her coffee. “How’s that going?”
“It shouldn’t be such a big deal,” I said. “And I even resolved last night to extend an olive branch to Clara and Nellie. But before I could come up with a way to do that, Nellie went on the offensive and came over here to run down my shop.” I sighed. “I have no idea what I ever did to those women to make them despise me so.”
“With some people, the only thing you have to do to make them dislike you is to be different from them.”
I smiled. “Then, in that case, I’ll take their dislike of me as a compliment.”
Reggie sipped her coffee. “Just don’t let them get to you. When they see that they can’t bully you, they’ll leave you alone.”
“I hope so,” I said.
* * *
After Reggie left, I took out my latest embroidery project. I’d ordered white poet’s shirts in several sizes and was adding blackwork to the collars and cuffs. I would be selling the shirts at the Renaissance Faire. I’d already made several ruffs and cuffs to sell to Faire-goers, and I had finished quite a few shirts. I was even teaching an Elizabethan blackwork class on Tuesday nights, and given the interest in the upcoming Ren Faire, it was full.
I used a unique border on as many of the poet’s shirts as possible. On this particular one, I was embroidering a pomegranate border. Traditionally, the pomegranate was the symbol of Spain, with a crowned pomegranate being the personal insignia of Catherine of Aragon. The pomegranate border would appeal to a buyer who wanted to appear to be of royal or noble birth . . . at least, if the buyer was familiar with Renaissance customs and traditions.
I outlined the pomegranate with thick black floss and then filled in the outline with a lighter-weight thread. I’d completed one pomegranate on the shirt’s right cuff and was filling in the leaves connecting the pomegranate to the next one when Ms. Fields, the customer for whom I ordered the tambour embroidery and the eighteenth-century embroidery books, came into the shop.
“Hi, Ms. Fields,” I said brightly, setting my embroidery aside. “Welcome back to the Seven-Year Stitch. What can I do for you today?”
She twisted her hands together. “I . . . I’m sorry to do this. . . .” She lowered her eyes. “But I need to cancel the order I placed with you yesterday.”
I stood, wiped my hands on the sides of my jeans, and joined her at the counter. “That’s all right. I can’t cancel the order, since it’s already gone through, but I’m sure I can resell the books.”
She nodded. “I’m sorry.”
“Just out of curiosity, what made you change your mind about the books?”
“The woman next door . . . she ordered them for me free of charge. She said it was a first-time-customer discount,” said Ms. Fields.
“Oh.” My initial surprise and jab of anger subsided enough to allow me to forgo taking my emotions out on my innocent customer—make that ex-customer. I even managed a smile. “How wonderful for you! I do hope you’ll keep the Seven-Year Stitch in mind the next time you need embroidery supplies.”
“Yes . . . yes, of course I will. In fact, I thought I’d get some skeins of floss while I’m here.”
“Thank you,” I said. “If you need help finding anything in particular, please let me know.”
Excerpted from "Wicked Stitch"
Copyright © 2015 Amanda Lee.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Embroidery Mysteries “A great series with enough suspense and smart sleuthing to hook readers every time.”—Romantic Times “Entertaining...Readers will enjoy spending time with the friendly folks of Tallulah Falls.”—Publishers Weekly “A well thought-out, free-flowing story that captures your attention and keeps you interested from beginning to end.”—The Romance Readers Connection “The writing is lively, and the pop culture references abundant.…A smartly written cozy that neatly ties up all the loose ends surrounding the murder but leaves the reader wanting to know more about the amateur detective, her friends, her life, and her future.”—Fresh Fiction “Smart and interesting, well patterned and deftly sewn together.”—Once Upon a Romance