All of Cora Chevalier’s dreams are coming true. Since moving to Indigo Gap, North Carolina, the busy crafting maven has been blessed with a great boyfriend, a lovely home, and a booming craft retreat business. But on the eve of her first Crafty Mom’s Escape Weekend, tragedy strikes again in Indigo Gap. This time, it’s curtains for Stan Herald, the disagreeable director of the local theater group, who’s murdered on the opening night of their new production. Worse, Cora’s friend Zee is accused of the crime.
Cora is determined to prove her friend’s innocence, but Zee’s mysterious past is making that difficult. And with a list of suspects longer than a double spool of satin cording, getting a bead on the real culprit won’t be easy. With her friends Jane and Ruby at her side, Cora must string together the clues and solve Stan’s murder before the killer gives an encore performance.
Includes crafting tips!
Praise for Mollie Cox Bryan’s mysteries
“A playful charmer!”
—Woman’s World on No Charm Intended
"Scrapbookers and hobby cozy fans will enjoy this delightful holiday escape."
—Library Journal on A Crafty Christmas
“A font of ingenuity . . . superb entertainment.”
—Mystery Scene magazine on Scrapbook of Secrets
About the Author
Mollie Cox Bryan writes cozy mysteries with edge and romances with slow, sweet burn. The first book in her Cora Crafts Mystery series, Death Among the Doilies, was a "Fresh Fiction Not to Miss” selection and was a finalist for the Daphne du Maurier Award. The second book, No Charm Intended, was named a “Summer 2017 Top 10 Beach Read” by Woman's World. She also wrote the Agatha-award nominated Cumberland Creek Mysteries. She makes her home at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, where she works as a researcher and fact checker and writes in the early morning hours. Visit her and sign up for her newsletter at molliecoxbryan.com.
Read an Excerpt
"How did we let ourselves get involved with this?" Cora Chevalier whispered to best friend and business partner, Jane Starr.
"It's not too bad, is it?" Jane whispered back.
The voice of one of the cast members performed the vocal gymnastics otherwise known as warm-ups. Cora grimaced.
"What do you think?" Cora said, hands over her ears.
Jane was in her element. She loved designing and painting the sets for the local theater group, IndigoArts. Cora would rather be at home with her cat, Luna. Besides, their next craft retreat, with a back-to-school theme for moms, beckoned with countless tasks requiring their attention.
Fiddler on the Roof opened tonight and along with excitement in the air, frayed nerves ran rampant. Cora and Jane's work essentially was done a week ago, but the sets needed a few touch-ups. They planned to be on their merry way as soon as possible.
Jane stood back and examined her work. "It will do. Good thing the audience won't be close enough to see the details," she said as she looked over the log house façade. It consisted of painted brown logs in between soft blue lines representing mud or clay Jane drew. She had also painted two windows and a door, along with the roof. No curtains hung in the windows, which was a subject of about a week's debate between Jane and the director, Stan. Should there be curtains? Or not?
Earlier, Jane and Cora finished painting a purple night sky with mountains fading in the distance, which took most of the day. Since they were already at the theater, they checked out a few of the other set pieces and façades to see if any touch-ups were needed.
"It looks beautiful," Cora said, picking up and then dropping her paintbrush into a bucket. She grew dizzy from the scent of paint and turpentine. "Let's get this cleaned up and go home before we're commandeered into doing something else."
She spoke too soon.
"There you are!" Zee said as she walked onto the stage as if she owned it. Others milled about, cleaning and making quick repairs and changes. "I wondered if you two are going to make the show tonight?"
It was their burgeoning friendship with Zee, otherwise known as Zora, that brought them here. Soon after Jane and Cora met her, she told them to please call her Zee, as she hated the name Zora, which had belonged to an evil old aunt. She was the musical director for the theater group. When she learned of Jane's artistic ability, she approached her.
"No," Jane replied. "We figured we'd attend next Sunday's matinee. We've got a retreat starting."
"Oh, that's right," Zee said, and wrote something on a paper attached to her clipboard. "Thank you both for all the work you've done." She lowered her voice. "I know it wasn't easy at times. So I owe you."
"We'll remind you of that," Cora said with a joking tone.
But Cora meant what she said. The politics of the local theater group was like an intricate game of chess. Cora found herself with her foot in her mouth on more than one occasion. She loved theater and had been in plays in college and briefly thought she might get involved with IndigoArts. Until this experience. She adored Zee, but they'd need a long chat about all this someday.
Besides, Cora needed to focus on the upcoming retreat. Her guest teacher was scheduled to arrive bright and early in the morning. Lena Ross was a beading artist. Just thinking about learning how to work with beads lifted Cora's spirits. It was a craft that was easy to make for non-crafters. No special talent was necessary, but beading could become an art in the right hands.
Lena Ross crafted across the spectrum of what made up the beading scene. She made everything from French bead floral arrangements to gorgeous lampwork necklaces. Cora was fascinated.
"You've done such a great job," Zee said. "Do you have a full house for this retreat?"
"Not yet," Cora said. "We've got some room. Do you want to come and craft with us?"
"Heavens no," she said, waving her plump hand. "I just thought if you needed room you could send them my way."
Zee owned and operated the Blue Note, one of the bed-and-breakfasts in quaint Indigo Gap. "I'm all thumbs with anything but music and flowers," she said. "Believe me. I've tried."
"Well, if you ever change your mind and want to give something a try, we're here for you," Cora said, grinning. "And if we're ever in need of rooms, we'll send our retreaters to you."
"What are you going to be doing? Crochet? Quilting? I've no interest whatsoever in making that stuff. I do love to buy it, though," Zee said with a Cheshire cat grin.
Jane and Cora had tried to guess Zee's age to no avail. And she wasn't one to tell. She'd had a whole other life before "retiring" to Indigo Gap. She was a musician, and her B&B featured a shiny baby grand in the sitting room. She had silver-blond hair and wore black kohl eyeliner over blue eye shadow, every day.
"Zora! There you are! Can I have a word?" It was the musical's director, Stan Herald, who took himself a bit too seriously for Cora's taste. He also refused to call Zora by Zee, even though she'd asked him to several times.
"Catch you two later," Zee said, and followed Stan into the wings. "I'll bring the flowers by then."
After they had finished cleaning up, Cora whispered, "Let's get out of here ... while we still can."CHAPTER 2
Cora and Jane made their great escape from the theater to the streets of Indigo Gap. They walked briskly, passing several local businesses: the florist, the paper shop, and the Blue Dawg Diner.
"Do you have everything you need for your class?" Cora asked. "I know you were expecting more materials."
Jane nodded. "Everything is set."
Jane planned a mini-class on making raku beads. As a potter, she understood all about clay and already possessed the tools and materials for the class. Embellishments and instruments were ordered for the crafters. Cora had peeked at the beads Jane fashioned while practicing for the class. Jane thought of them as whimsical projects, but Cora was amazed by them. Because of the firing techniques and the materials used, the clay resembled glass. Jane's beads shimmered with colorful translucency, reminding Cora of swirly carnival glass.
"I'm so looking forward to this retreat," Jane said. "What a great idea to hold a retreat for moms after the summer. Maybe we can make this an annual event."
"Let's see how the first one goes," Cora said. "For now, I'm all for it."
"I like the idea of a single craft, but with each teacher adding their own unique element," Jane said.
This crafty moms retreat was the first. Up until this point, at each retreat Cora and Jane had offered two or three different crafts.
"Well, beading lends itself to it," Cora said. "I'm looking forward to Ruby's herbal beading class."
"She's a bit more prickly than usual," Jane said. "I hope everything is okay with her."
Now the third partner in their craft retreat business, Ruby lived in the gardener's cottage on the property and came with the purchase of Cora's house-turned-retreat center. She was a local and a gifted herbalist, both of which benefited the business.
"I wouldn't worry about it. I think she's just a moody person," Cora said.
"It's almost time for me to pick up London from school," Jane said, as they approached Kildare House. "I'll catch you later."
"You should come by later and check out Zee's floral arrangements," Cora said.
"I'll try," Jane replied as she walked around the side of Kildare House and back to her carriage house abode. She and London lived in a second- floor apartment, over Jane's pottery studio and shop.
Tomorrow, along with their guest teacher's arrival, a few of the crafters would be arriving as well, so Cora took this time to once again make certain everything was prepared for them. She walked through each room and each bathroom, inspecting things. Did everybody have enough towels? Soap? Sheets? Extra blankets? Satisfied that everything seemed to be in order, she moved along at a brisk pace until she arrived at Mémé's Boudoir, where she always paused because the room was filled with her grandmother's things. Worn French linen covered the bed, lacy antique linen hung on the walls in French-inspired, gilded frames, and old family photos sat on the dresser on top of a long frilly doily. Perhaps it was just the memory of the woman who saved all these treasures for Cora, or maybe the items themselves held a comforting vibe. She smoothed over the bed, and the feel of the soft linen on her skin calmed her.
When she thought of calm and comfort, Cora's thoughts moved to Adrian, her boyfriend, who was working late tonight at the public elementary school. As the school librarian, he was readying for parent night, tidying up his library. She'd not gotten to see him much over the past few weeks because school was in session and she'd been recruited into helping out with the IndigoArts play. Never again, she told herself.
Just then her cell phone rang. "Cora Chevalier," she answered.
"Hi, Cora, this is Roni Davis."
"Hi, Roni, how can I help you?" Cora asked.
"I'm one of your retreaters and I completely miscalculated how many days it would take me to drive to Indigo Gap from Virginia, so I'm almost there. Should I get a hotel room, or is it okay for me to just come to Kildare House?"
So much for having the night to herself.
"You're welcome to come here. No worries," Cora said. She wondered what Jane would say. She'd been telling Cora she ought to work on her "need to please" and set more boundaries.
"Thanks so much," Roni said. "I'll pay you for the extra night."
"Thank you," Cora said, thinking that would make Jane happy. "We'll see you in a bit."
Cora sat on the edge of the bed, surrounded by her grandmother's worn but beautiful objects. Sometimes she felt like pinching herself. Could it be that her dreams were all actually coming true? The Crafty Moms' Escape Weekend was her third retreat — and the arrangements were all in place. She expected blips, such as a guest arriving earlier than intended. Cora could manage. She was managing. She hadn't had a panic attack in months.
Not only was her professional life coming together, but she and Adrian were moving along in their relationship. She had a great boyfriend, a lovely home, and a booming craft retreat business. Dare she hope for even more success and happiness?
After giving everything a final check, Cora called Zee. She was late with the flowers, which was totally unlike her. She didn't answer her phone, which was also unlike her.
Oh well, Cora thought, maybe she'd gotten busy at the theater. After all, it was opening night.
Cora set off to check over the gift baskets, which had become a signature of their retreats. Each crafter received a basketful of tools and crafting goodies on arrival. Almost everything they needed was in the baskets — beads, wire, felt. Gifts from a few local crafters were also included, such as a paper pack from the new paper shop and tiny felted birds from an art teacher at the high school who had a craft business on the side.
Her phone rang, interrupting her thoughts and her checking over the baskets. "Cora Chevalier."
"Hello?" Cora said when no one spoke at first.
Cora's heart raced. "What's wrong?"
"I can't bring your flowers. I'm at the ... I'm at the police station."
"It's Stan. He's dead."
"What? What happened?"
Zee inhaled and exhaled into the phone before answering. "It was no accident. Someone killed him, and they think it was me."CHAPTER 3
Cora reached for her tapestry handbag, her keys, and a scarf. She needed to get to the police station, and fast. Poor Zee! Cora knew she didn't kill Stan. What was going on? Why would they even bother questioning her?
What an odd town Indigo Gap, North Carolina, is, she thought. She'd been here a little over a year, and this was the third murder. Murder? Surely not. Surely Zee must be mistaken. Who would kill a director at the theater on opening night? Zee must be upset and confused.
With a new mission to get to the bottom of this mess before her crafters arrived, Cora wrapped a scarf around her neck, took a quick look at herself in the mirror, and opened the door.
A woman wearing purple eyeglasses and a wrinkled brown velour tracksuit stood smiling at her. Short, round, with a pleasant smile, she extended her hand.
"Hello," she said, "I'm Roni."
"Oh! Roni!" Cora said. "Please come in!"
"Thank you," she said, dragging her roller suitcase behind her. It thudded on the chestnut floors, and the wheels made a whirring noise as they spun along. She stopped and gasped as she took in the house. "What a gorgeous place!"
Cora beamed. "Thanks. It's a work in progress."
Roni stood back from the staircase in awe. "Look at that. The woodwork is astounding!" she said.
Cora reacted the same way when she first walked into the place. They didn't build staircases like this anymore, with such exquisite attention to detail on the bannister and the stairs.
"And the floors!"
"Yes," Cora said, wondering if she was ever going to get out of here now that a guest arrived. "The house was built in the 1800s, by an Irish immigrant family."
"They must have done pretty well for themselves," Roni said with her eyes wide.
"Yes, I'd say so," Cora replied. "Would you like me to show you around?" She was too polite not to ask, but she hoped Roni would say no.
"Would I?" Roni clutched her ample chest. "Yes!"
"You can leave your bag there. I'll just take you quickly around the place," Cora said, and smiled. She loved the reaction of people when they came to Kildare House. It was a work of art, and she was still managing to find new things to love about it every day. Even the creaky floors. She felt as if each nook and cranny held history, memories, and stories; each window held dreams.
She hated to rush Roni along, but Zee was at the police station, thinking she was a suspect for murder. She must be mistaken. Zee must be confused and in shock.
"How lovely. Did you decorate the place yourself?" Roni said. "I love the way you've incorporated handmade crafts and goods. Is that a Moroccan tile table?"
"Yes, it was a gift," Cora said. "In fact, most of the dÃ©cor is handmade items from friends and old clients."
There were colorful hand-loomed rugs, macramÃ© and hand-woven wall hangings, knitted and crocheted throws and pillows. Paintings and clay work. All of it a testament to the art of crafting.
"Through here is the dining room," Cora said, leading her through the French doors into the next room.
"I just love the old built-ins," Roni said.
"Yes," Cora said. "Me too. Through there is the craft wing. You'll be spending a lot of time there."
Cora hoped Roni wouldn't insist on going in — and she didn't. Cora wanted to visit Zee. But Kildare House was her business. And more than that, it would be impolite just to leave her guest to wander through the house when she had just arrived.
"We have several craft-themed rooms," Cora went on, and Roni followed through the hallway. She pointed to the paper-crafting room. "You can do any crafting here you want. There's the paper-crafting room. And over here is the fiber arts room. We have a mini-loom inside. Do you weave?"
"Heavens no," she said. "I design jewelry. I'm all about jewelry. I guess I wouldn't mind some of this other stuff, but I'm here to learn about beads. I've tried to get to some of her other retreats and classes, and my schedule didn't allow for it."
"Oh," Cora said. "I'm so glad you could make it. Which room did you reserve? Do you remember?"
"The Brigid Room," she said. "I remember reading about St. Brigid and the goddess Brigid and thought it would be fun to stay in there."
"Brigid is our patron goddess or saint if you will," Cora said. "Follow me." She led Roni up the first flight of stairs and stopped at the landing. Cora loved to show off the stained glass window here.
"Is that her? Is that Brigid?"
"Yes, it is," Cora said. "Now, your room has several Brigid items in it. Some statues that Jane Starr made, some prints, and so on. I hope you like it."
Cora continued up the second flight of stairs. The third step always creaked. "The family who built this house were from Kildare, Ireland. There is a small St. Brigid church there. It was built on top of a pagan site for Brigid, the goddess of Irish myth. I read that archeologists have unearthed a fire pit and other parts of the ancient temple."
"Fascinating," Roni said. "So the family named their house after their hometown and have a stained glass window of the town saint. That's just way too cool!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Assault and Beadery"
Copyright © 2018 Mollie Cox Bryan.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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