Marcy is busy helping her customers make hand-crafted ornaments at her embroidery shop, the Seven-Year Stitch. But despite the yuletide bustle, when her friend Captain Moe asks for her help, she can’t refuse—especially when the favor is to play the elf to his Santa for sick children at a local hospital. Despite the ridiculous outfit, Marcy finds herself enjoying spreading cheer—until the hospital’s administrator is found murdered.
Although the deceased had plenty of people willing to fill her stocking with coal, evidence pins the crime on Moe. Now it’s up to Marcy, with the help of her police officer boyfriend Ted and her Irish Wolfhound Angus, to stitch together the clues to clear Moe’s name—before someone else winds up crossed off Santa’s list for good...
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I locked the door to the Seven-Year Stitch, my embroidery specialty shop, walked over to the sit-and-stitch square, and slumped onto the sofa facing away from the window. My gray Irish wolfhound, Angus, flopped onto the floor beside me and heaved a sigh.
"What a day, huh, Angus?" I looked over at our mannequin, Jill-who normally resembles Marilyn Monroe-and noticed that her wig was now sideways and covering her entire face. I laughed. "I think Jill has had an even rougher day than we have."
Black Friday. Although the other merchants in Tallulah Falls and I couldn't offer the deep discounts provided by the large chain stores, we'd all done something to try to sway customers to shop with us today. My friends Blake and Sadie MacKenzie of MacKenzies' Mochas had offered customers free coffee with the purchase of a pastry. Todd Calloway of the Brew Crew had forgone giving out free beer and had instead provided shoppers with bottles of water and a place to leave their bags so they wouldn't have too much to carry as they wandered from shop to shop.
I'd brought in a toaster oven this morning and had provided patrons with freshly baked cookies and a twenty-five percent discount off their total purchases. I'd expected an upsurge in traffic, but I hadn't been prepared for the amount of business I'd received today. I'd been open last year on Black Friday, but the Seven-Year Stitch had been in business but a few weeks then, and although business had been good, I don't think people were as aware of the shop as they were now. Plus, I was getting better at the promotional side of things. I'd been closed for the past few days, but for two weeks prior to that, I'd been putting flyers in everyone's bags advertising the Thanksgiving celebration.
I pushed myself off the sofa and went over to adjust Jill's wig. I smoothed it down and then straightened her apron. I typically dressed Jill to coincide with the season. With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, I'd dressed her in a 1950s-style A-line dress-complete with crinoline-and a ruffled apron. She looked darling . . . or, well, she did after I fixed her wig.
I looked around the rest of the shop. Beyond Jill and the checkout counter to the left were bins of floss and yarn. Maple racks containing pattern books, needles, hoops, crochet hooks, and other needlecraft supplies filled the rest of the left side of the shop. To the right of the counter was the sit-and-stitch square. Two navy sofas faced each other and were separated by an oval maple coffee table atop a red-and-blue braided rug. Red club chairs and matching ottomans rounded out the seating area, where patrons were invited to-you guessed it-sit and stitch.
On the walls and atop the maple racks were embroidery projects I'd completed, as well as dolls whose outfits I'd made or embellished with embroidery. Candlewicked pillows usually adorned the sofas in the sit-and-stitch square, but I'd placed them in the office today. I'd been afraid that children with chocolaty fingers and faces would latch onto the white pillows. That was something I hadn't originally considered when I'd decided to offer cookies to the Stitch patrons.
Deciding that putting the pillows back in place was the next-easiest thing to do-after making Jill presentable again-I retrieved the pillows, fluffed them, and placed them on the sofa. With my hands on my hips, I surveyed the rest of the shop. I needed to straighten the floss bins, restock the yarn, vacuum, dust the shelves, clean the glass. . . . But I was so tired.
"We'll get here early and tidy up in the morning, Angus," I said. "Let's go home, buddy."
He leapt to his feet, apparently as delighted by the prospect of going home as I was.
When we got to our white, two-story home and saw Ted's car in the driveway, my heart lifted even more. I'm pretty sure Angus felt the same way. Ted was the most wonderful man in the whole wide world, and he was mine. Well, Angus would say he was ours.
Ted opened the door as Angus and I got to the porch. He was wearing a black apron emblazoned with Kiss the Cook. Being a stickler for following rules, I did as instructed . . . several times, in fact.
The house smelled wonderful. I closed my eyes and took in the blend of scents: oregano, beef, sausage, basil, tomato sauce, garlic.
"Did you make lasagna?" I asked.
He smiled. "I did. I'm tired of turkey, and I guessed you and Angus are, too."
"You're absolutely right."
We'd had a whirlwind week. Last Saturday after work, I'd closed up the Stitch and Ted, Angus, and I had flown to San Francisco. Mom had insisted on our bringing Angus, and she'd even made the necessary travel arrangements. I was glad. I hadn't wanted to spend four days away from him.
Ted and I had stayed with Mom. On Sunday, she'd had a delicious Thanksgiving meal catered for us. Alfred Benton, Mom's longtime lawyer and recent boyfriend, joined us. He always joined us for holiday celebrations-he'd been a surrogate dad to me ever since my own father had died when I was a toddler-but this time it was more special. It was apparent that he and Mom were in love. And since I'd left San Francisco last year to open my shop in Tallulah Falls, it was great to see her with someone-especially someone she loved and who obviously made her feel so loved. I just couldn't figure out what had taken them so long.
We'd flown back from San Fran on Wednesday morning, and we'd had dinner with Ted's mom yesterday. I'd been nervous about spending Thanksgiving Day with Ted's family. Not only was his mom there, but his sister and her family were there as well. Tiffany was married and had a two-year-old son.
Ted's sister was two years younger than he. Like Ted and his mother, she had those striking blue eyes. But there the resemblance ended. I imagined Tiffany must've taken after her father. She had chestnut brown hair with honey highlights, and she was only about three inches taller than me. Ted was around six-feet-one or two, and I was five-foot-nothing if I stretched out my spine and held my head high. And Ted's hair was black with flecks of premature gray.
I ran my hands through his hair as I stood there looking up at him. "I'm so glad to finally have you to myself. Not that I haven't enjoyed spending time with Mom and Alfred and your mom and meeting Tiffany and her family, it's just . . ."
"I know, Marcy." He lowered his mouth to mine. "I've missed being alone with you, too."
After dinner, we went into my all-white living room. Some people probably thought I was crazy for having a white sofa and chair and a huge, wiry gray dog that shed pretty regularly. But I found the color peaceful, and regular vacuuming and lint brushing took care of any wayward hair.
After dinner, Angus went out to the backyard to play. Ted and I cuddled up on the large overstuffed sofa. He kissed the top of my head.
"Thank you for making dinner," I said.
"You're welcome. I knew you'd be exhausted when you got here. How'd the cookies go over?"
"Really well. People were delighted with them."
"I was half-afraid you'd get busy and burn a batch and the whole shop would smell like smoke for a week."
I gaped at him. "Gee, thanks!"
He chuckled. "I didn't mean it that way. I just thought about you being there by yourself, trying to manage all the customers and bake cookies at the same time. Since I had to work only half a day, I started to come by. But I figured you probably had things under control and that you'd rather have dinner waiting for you than a guy who knows very little about embroidery helping out at the Stitch."
I smiled. "Well, you were right." I snuggled against him, wrapping one arm around his waist. "Although I wouldn't have minded your stopping by."
"I know. How did you manage, anyway?"
"I had most of the cookies baked by the time people started coming in. Then as I started to run out, I'd put in a batch, set the timer, and then run to get them when the timer went off," I said. "People were good about my having to stop now and then to get the cookies. They understood that I was the only person working. Well, that is, except for one dotty little lady who thought Jill was rude for not helping out."
"Well, Jill is a fairly realistic-looking mannequin."
"Ha! You should've seen her by the end of the day when her wig was on crooked!"
We were laughing about that when the doorbell rang.
I froze. "Did you invite anyone over?"
"We could pretend we aren't here." I was sitting up even as I spoke.
"With both our cars in the driveway? Not likely." Ted stood. "I'll go to the door. Maybe it's just an early caroler or something."
"It's still November."
"And Christmas merchandise has been in the store since September," he pointed out.
Ted went to the door. When I heard Captain Moe's voice, I joined them in the foyer. Captain Moe was a large, beefy man with white hair and a full white beard. I often compared him in my mind to Alan Hale, who'd played the Skipper on the classic television show Gilligan's Island.
Captain Moe swept me off my feet in a hug. "I'm sorry to barge in on you fine folks."
"You're always welcome," I said. "Would you like something to drink? Are you hungry?"
"No, Tinkerbell. After the past few days, I shouldn't need anything to eat or drink for a week." Captain Moe had called me Tinkerbell since the first time we'd met. I didn't know if that was due to my size or my hair color, but, either way, I took it as the endearment that Captain Moe intended it to be.
"Come on into the living room," Ted said.
He and I sat on the sofa, and Captain Moe filled the matching armchair across from us.
"I'm here with my proverbial hat in my hands," said the captain.
"What's wrong?" Ted asked.
"You know we'll do whatever we can to help you," I said.
Captain Moe held up an index finger. "You'd best hear me out before you say that, Tink. You see, I agreed to play Santa Claus for the Tallulah County General Hospital. I was there today, and I'll be there tomorrow evening and Sunday evening."
"That's wonderful." I smiled. Captain Moe would be the perfect Santa. He already looked the part, and he certainly had the heart of the jolly old elf.
"It is nice," he said. "I'm meeting primarily with children, but I'll also be seeing a few of the elderly patients and anyone else who'd like to join in the fun."
"I'm surprised the hospital is having you come in so early," Ted said.
"I was, too. But the administrator explained to me that it's difficult for these patients and their loved ones not to be able to have their traditional Thanksgiving Day meals and visits with extended family members, and she hopes having me there will brighten their weekend. I'm to go back the weekend before Christmas and on Christmas Eve."
"It's awfully thoughtful of you to volunteer so much of your time," I told him.
He winced slightly when I said that.
"What?" I asked.
"I have absolutely no right to ask you, and you can most certainly say no and I will understand completely, but you're the first person who came to mind," he babbled.
Captain Moe was not a babbler. This was really important to him. "Please, just ask whatever it is you want to ask."
"I need an elf," he said.
Ted covered his mouth with his hand and his shoulders started to shake.
"Um, excuse me?" I asked.
"You see, I had an elf. The hospital had one lined up. She was there half the day today, and she was a tremendous help. In fact, I didn't realize how helpful she was until she'd left."
"She left?" I asked. "You mean, she quit?"
"Well, she didn't simply up and quit. Her babysitter called, and one of her children has a stomach bug," he said. "She won't be coming back tomorrow."
"And you'd like me to take her place?" Me? An elf? Okay, I could understand why Captain Moe would think of me for the job: I'm short. But the Stitch was open tomorrow. And I didn't have anyone lined up to run the shop in my absence. On the other hand, this was Captain Moe. How many times had he been there for me?
He seemed to have read my mind. "I know you have to work, but we don't have to be there tomorrow evening until six o'clock. You can even bring Angus. We can put some antlers on him and he can be our reindeer."
Ted laughed out loud at that. "That's fantastic!"
"Isn't it, though?" Captain Moe agreed. "The children would adore him."
"But I don't have a costume," I said.
"The hospital will provide one for you. We just need to let them know your size."
"What would I have to do?"
"You pretty much keep the children corralled and happy until it's their turn to talk with me. Hand out coloring books and peppermint sticks-that sort of thing." He held up his hands. "Again, don't feel obligated. If you can do it, I'd greatly appreciate it. But if you can't, I'll try to find someone else."
"And this is just for tomorrow night?" I asked.
"And Sunday," he said. "If you can."
"I can." I smiled a little uncertainly. "You can count on Angus and me."
"Thank you so much. You don't know how much I appreciate this."
After Captain Moe had left and we'd nestled back onto the sofa, Ted turned to me with a mischievous grin. "He doesn't know how much I appreciate this! I can hardly wait to see you in your elf costume."
"Ted . . ."
"He said it was for anyone who wanted to join in the fun. I want to join in the fun."
I whacked him with a throw pillow.
"You know what we should do? We should watch some Christmas movies so you can pick up some pointers."
I hit him again. He was laughing so hard, I don't even think he noticed.