Shop owner Josie Blair is finally settling into the pace of living in Dorset Falls, Connecticut. Between running Miss Marple Knits, jumpstarting a blog, and handcrafting items with the help of her knitting pals, Josie’s too preoccupied to worry about her past. And thanks to Lyndon and Harry, the owners of the brand-new antique shop next door, she’s also busy repurposing a box of vintage crocheted doilies adorned with the most curious needlework . . .
But before Josie can formally welcome her neighbors, she discovers Lyndon on the floor of his shop stabbed to death by a rusty old pair of sheep shears. Police have pinned Harry as the killer, but Josie isn’t so sure. Now, she’s lacing up for another homicide investigation—and no eyelet or stitch can go unexamined, lest she herself becomes ensnared in the criminal’s deadly design . . .
INCLUDES ORIGINAL KNITTING PATTERNS!
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"Let's take a break, Evelyn." Josie Blair tossed a skein of pale green South American wool into a basket, put her hands on the scarred wood of her sales counter, and pushed up from her stool into a stretch.
Evelyn stood, a satisfied expression deepening the fine wrinkles around her eyes. "I'm not tired. I could unpack new shipments of yarn all day long. But how about if I make us some tea?"
"That sounds perfect. Would you rather I run down to the general store and get some?" It was March in the picturesque hills of Connecticut, but the sun was shining, and the almost-warm air held the promise of spring.
"Nonsense. We have some of Lorna's vanilla mint right here. I'll put on the electric kettle, and we'll have a cup in no time." She didn't wait for a further response, just turned on her heel and marched toward the back.
Evelyn Graves was practical, efficient, and knew everyone in town. Josie couldn't have asked for a better friend or a better employee at Miss Marple Knits, the shop she'd taken over a few weeks ago. And Lorna Fowler, who worked at Dougie Brewster's general store a block away, could blend tea as well as any professional in New York City. Maybe better.
"I'll just step outside for some fresh air, then," Josie said to the back of Evelyn's permed, strawberry-blond head. Josie wound a soft wool scarf around her neck as she crossed the floor to the front door, then pulled down the sleeves of her hand-knit Aran sweater. The ivory-colored garment, with its complex pattern of cables and twists, was one of many pieces she'd inherited from her great-aunt Cora Lloyd, who'd owned this shop for many years before her untimely death. Every time Josie wore one of Cora's items, the kinship she felt for the woman who'd married her great-uncle Eben grew stronger. She'd never met Cora, because Josie had moved away to New York City years before Cora came into Eben's life. But that didn't mean Josie didn't feel her presence every day, both at home and here at Miss Marple Knits. It was strange and comforting at the same time.
Just as Josie put her hand on the knob, a shadow darkened her view. Fighting off a pang of disappointment — she'd hoped to feel the sun on her face after a morning of stocking shelves — Josie opened the door and stepped out onto Main Street.
But it wasn't a cloud that had blocked out the sun. An enormous moving truck had parked in front of the empty storefront next to Miss Marple Knits.
Hope surged in Josie's chest. Each new business that came into town would bring more and more people to downtown, and that was good for everyone. Thanks to Great-Uncle Eb, with whom she lived in his farmhouse just outside Dorset Falls, Josie was now the proud owner of not only the building that housed the yarn shop, but the adjacent building at number 15 Main Street.
Less than two months ago, Josie had been living in a tiny Brooklyn apartment and trying — unsuccessfully — to make a name for herself as a fashion designer. But here she was now, a business owner and a landlord. Landlady? She'd have to think about what she wanted to be called, but all she knew was that it felt wonderful. And now she even had a tenant.
The back door of the truck slid open with a cringe-inducing scrape of metal. Josie looked into the depths of the cavernous space as it was revealed, a few inches at a time. The truck was packed full. Most of the items inside were covered in dusty blue quilted cloths secured with bungee cords. Desks? Dressers? Tables? Impossible to know until they, and the dozen or so cardboard boxes she could see, were unloaded.
A moment later, a gentleman came from the vicinity of the front of the truck — gentleman was the perfect word to describe him, she thought, with his tailored Harris Tweed jacket complete with suede elbow patches, and his precisely cut silver hair neatly combed back to reveal a widow's peak and tortoiseshell glasses. Lyndon Bailey's face lit up with surprise when he spotted Josie.
"Spying on me already, as every good landlady should?" he said with a good-natured chuckle. Landlady it was to be, then. "It's good to meet you in person, Miss Blair."
Josie extended her hand to Lyndon as two men about her age, perhaps a bit younger than her thirty years, appeared. Their matching, utilitarian-looking uniforms proclaimed that these were the movers. Good thing. Lyndon did not seem the type who would want to wrangle his own furniture.
"Lyndon, please call me Josie. I didn't expect to see you until next week."
"That's not a problem, is it? I was able to close up my affairs in Hartford more quickly than I expected."
Josie shook her head. The sooner new shops opened in Dorset Falls, the better. And Lyndon had paid a handsome security deposit plus rent for the next six months in advance. She could afford to be flexible on the dates. "Of course not," she said. "I'm thrilled you're here. But where's Harry?"
Lyndon smiled, showing a nice set of teeth. "He's gone to the Catskills on a buying trip. He'll be along in a day or two." He gestured toward the movers, who were rather noisily setting up a ramp from the back of the truck to the pavement. "Can I let them in? The shop is ready?"
"The shop's been ready for a few decades, I'd say. You have your keys, so move in. I cleaned for you." Well, she couldn't take all the credit. Evelyn and Lorna had joined her for a vacuuming and dusting party, then Josie had treated her friends to dinner at the Italian restaurant in the next town over.
Lyndon seemed pleased. "One less detail to worry about. I thank you." His eyes darted toward the truck. The movers were maneuvering a bulky shape onto the ramp. "You know these are antiques, right?" he called to them.
The larger of the two men grinned. "Yup. That's why we're getting paid the big bucks."
"Cheeky," Lyndon said, under his breath, to Josie. He took a deep breath, then spoke louder. "That sideboard is Second Empire. Please be extremely cautious."
The man nodded, then went back to muscling the covered lump down the ramp on a dolly. He and his partner seemed to be doing a careful job, at least while Lyndon was watching. Presumably they had insurance for any non-careful events. Josie wasn't sure to what empire Lyndon had been referring — if there was a second, there must have been a first, she reasoned. Regardless, the furniture must be old.
"I'm just about to have some tea. Would you like to join me and my associate Evelyn for some?" Josie asked.
Lyndon hesitated, looking torn. He finally shook his head. "Very tempting, my dear. But I need to supervise the move. Perhaps another time."
"Of course. You have work to do. Come over anytime," Josie said. She turned back toward her own shop — and felt a little thrill as she thought the words. Her own shop. Would that ever get old? "And Lyndon," she said over her shoulder, "I'm glad you're here."
"Me too," he said, then turned to the movers. "For goodness' sake, be careful, gentlemen."
Josie left him to it.
When she returned to Miss Marple Knits, she found Evelyn sitting on the flowered loveseat in front of the big window that overlooked Main Street. Two mismatched, oversized mugs sat on the coffee table in front of her. Evelyn had used a knitting magazine as a coaster. Steam rolled off the tops of the cups, and Josie sat down, reaching for one gratefully. She wrapped both hands around the mug, interlacing her fingers to maximize the contact with the china. Within moments, her hands and her insides were warm.
"What are you working on?" Josie asked Evelyn, whose nimble fingers were flying. The woman could knit like the wind. Evelyn paused, pulling up a length of yarn from the center-pull ball from which she was working. Josie still wasn't quite sure why yarn did not come from the manufacturer in balls already wound, but she was proud of herself for having mastered the swift and winder, the simple companion machines Miss Marple Knits had for making usable balls of yarn from just-waiting-to-be-tangled loose skeins.
"Fingerless gloves," Evelyn said. "Simple lace pattern. Perfect for this time of year when it's too warm for full gloves or mittens, but too cool to go without." She held up a configuration of four double-pointed needles attached by sapphire-blue yarn that was forming a ribbed cylindrical cuff.
"Pretty. Too bad they aren't finished. I could have used them out there." Josie took a sip of tea. Heaven.
"What took you so long?" Evelyn's words seemed to come out in time to the gentle clack-clackclack of her bamboo needles, her weapons of choice. Some knitters and crocheters preferred metal, and some preferred wood, Josie had learned, so Miss Marple Knits stocked both.
Josie sipped her tea and reached for a chocolate cookie. She bit into the perfect circle and closed her eyes, savoring the chunks of semisweet chocolate as they melted on her tongue. Evelyn was not just an expert knitter. The woman could bake. After Josie swallowed, she said, "The new owner of the antique store is here, a few days early, and moving in. Hear all that noise?"
"I did hear it, and I've already peeked outside." Evelyn kept her eyes trained on her work. Josie didn't comment, but both women knew Evelyn had a predilection for not exactly legal "peeking" that had proved useful when a murder had been committed not long ago. "I didn't have a good view of the owner. What does he look like?"
"Well, he's in his sixties, preppy. If I didn't know he dealt in antiques, I'd have said he was a tenured professor of history or English at Yale."
This was enough to make Evelyn glance up, though her fingers continued to move as if without conscious effort. "Married?" Her voice was all innocence.
"Doesn't he have a partner in the business? Where's he?"
"Lyndon said he'll be in town soon."
The shop bells tinkled as a customer came in, unzipping her jacket and heading straight for the sock yarns. Evelyn began to put her knitting down, but Josie waved her hand. "I'll tend to the customer. You keep knitting. You're good for business."
Evelyn wound the yarn around her needle again, made the stitch, then gave the yarn a firm tug as she moved on to the next needle in her configuration. Evelyn had explained to Josie that the tug would prevent something she called laddering, a line of loose stitches where the needle changes occurred. "Doesn't seem right, you paying me to knit, rather than to do real work in the shop."
"You help more than you know," Josie said, and meant it. "And your knitting away in the front window is the best kind of advertising."
Evelyn's lips pursed. "I might believe that if anyone actually drove down Main Street, Dorset Falls, Connecticut. This place is a ghost town."
Maybe. It had been up to this point. But Josie had a feeling that fortunes might be changing in her newly adopted village. Yarn lovers were beginning to trickle in to Miss Marple Knits, perhaps due to the small amount of advertising Josie had been able to do — her budget was tiny for this — but more likely from word of mouth. It seemed that once a yarn lover heard about a new shop, she would travel quite some distance to check it out.
Josie busied herself behind the counter while her customer filled her basket. Based on the size of the diamond that currently resided on the woman's left hand, which Josie could see sparkling even from across the room, Josie figured this woman had plenty of disposable income. And Miss Marple Knits was an excellent place for her to spend it. Josie did a quick mental calculation. If the woman bought all the yarn in her basket, this sale should be enough to put the shop into the black this month. Don't jinx it, Josie. The sale's not made yet.
A half hour later, after the woman had systematically walked the entire perimeter of the shop, stopping to examine the contents of each bin and cubby that lined the walls as well as to thumb through some of the pattern books, she set her overflowing basket on the counter in front of Josie. She smiled, a bit sheepishly. "I can't help myself. The yarn lust overtakes me." She pulled out her credit card as Josie rang up the sale.
"Personally, I'm glad you can't control your desires. Yarn lust keeps me in business." From across the room, Evelyn laughed. Josie and her customer looked at each other, then both burst out laughing too.
Josie turned up the heater in her ancient Saab, then turned down the radio, which had been emitting its usual static instead of music. It was just after five p.m., and Josie was pleased to see that there was still daylight. While she'd lived in New York and worked in the fashion industry, she'd paid far more attention to the lengthening and shortening of hemlines in response to the seasons than she had to the lengthening and shortening of days. But the longer she stayed in Dorset Falls, the more in tune with the natural world she seemed to become.
If anyone had told her six months ago she'd be living on a farm in rural Connecticut — and actually doing chores on that farm — she'd have said he or she was crazy and signaled the bartender for another round of whatever that person was having. And yet here she was, pulling into the dirt driveway alongside her great-uncle's farmhouse, property that had been in her family for a hundred years. Oh, she hadn't completely ruled out moving back to New York someday. But for now, she found that it was supremely satisfying to be working toward something, toward making a success of Miss Marple Knits, rather than working so someone else — she couldn't help thinking of her horrid former boss, the designer Otto Heinrich — could be successful.
Josie parked to the right of her great-uncle's truck and cut the engine. From somewhere in the vicinity of the house came the sound of barking, then a high-pitched howl. She braced herself as a huge yellow beast bounded off the porch and came to sit just outside her driver's side door, panting.
"Move it, Jethro," Josie said as she opened the door, gently pushing the dog aside and exiting the car. The dog stared at her, his big brown eyes boring into hers. He gave a sharp bark, then raced off in the direction of the bare lilac bush in the middle of the front yard when she threw something.
Josie let out a breath she hadn't known she'd been holding. She and Jethro had made a tentative peace during her residence here, largely thanks to the liberal application of dog treats. But her cat, Coco, still spent a fair amount of time in hiding when Jethro was indoors.
"Oops, can't forget this." Josie leaned back into the car and reached across the seat. The paper bag she pulled out was emitting a delicious smell: hot roast beef grinder with grilled onions. Lorna, who cooked and clerked at the general store, had thoughtfully left off the green peppers, since she knew they didn't agree with Eb.
As Josie shouldered her purse with her free hand and bumped the door closed with her hip, Jethro reappeared, apparently drawn by the scent of the meat. Not that she could blame him. It was all she could do not to rip open the paper here and now and take a bite. Josie held the bag high and made her way up the sagging front porch of the old farmhouse she now called home.
"Eb?" Her uncle didn't answer as she entered the house and kicked off her boots. When she'd arrived here from New York, she'd brought a cute pair of fur-lined clogs. Now she'd traded those in for a pair of water — and mud — proof boots. Here in the country, there were compromises to be made. You could be fashionable and uncomfortable, or less fashionable but warm and dry. These days, surprising herself, Josie was opting for the latter.
The crackling of the wood stove in the kitchen was audible even at this distance. Eb must have loaded it recently, because it was blasting enough heat to smelt iron. With Jethro right at her heels, just waiting for her to make a mistake, Josie didn't dare set down the bag containing the sandwich. So the irritating bead of sweat that was currently rolling down her nose continued to make its descent, and she was unable to wipe it away.
"Eb?" she called again. "I brought dinner." He didn't answer. She reached up and set the bag on top of the refrigerator out of Jethro's reach, then shrugged gratefully out of her sweater and fanned herself with the neck of her T-shirt. The door that led to Eb's workshop, a room that, according to her great-uncle, had formerly been a woodshed, was ajar. Josie peeked in.
Eb looked up at her over the top rims of his black-framed cheaters. His impressive eyebrows were drawn together over his customary scowl. "You brought food?" He went back to work on whatever he'd been fiddling with. "When are you going to learn to cook?"
Excerpted from "A Knit Before Dying"
Copyright © 2017 Jane Haertel.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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