For thirty-something blogger Cora Chevalier, small-town Indigo Gap, North Carolina, seems like the perfect place to reinvent her life. Shedding a stressful past as a counselor for a women’s shelter, Cora is pouring all her talents—and most of her savings—into a craft retreat business, with help from close pal and resident potter Jane Starr. Between transforming her Victorian estate into a crafter’s paradise and babysitting Jane’s daughter, the new entrepreneur has no time for distractions. Especially rumors about the murder of a local school librarian . . .
But when Jane’s fingerprints match those found at the grisly crime scene, Cora not only worries about her friend, but her own reputation. With angry townsfolk eager for justice and both Jane’s innocence and the retreat at risk, she must rely on her creative chops to unlace the truth behind the beloved librarian’s disturbing demise. Because if the killer’s patterns aren’t pinned, Cora’s handiwork could end up in stitches . . .
Praise for Mollie Cox Bryan’s Cumberland Creek Mysteries:
“Scrapbookers and hobby cozy fans will enjoy this delightful holiday escape.” —Library Journal on A Crafty Christmas
“A satisfying and surprising read.”—Sheila Connolly, New York Times bestselling author on Scrapped
“Though-provoking and well-paced . . . A great story, well told!”—Juliet Blackwell, New York Times bestselling author on Scrapped
“A font of ingenuity . . . superb entertainment.”—Mystery Scene magazine on Scrapbook of Secrets
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Death Among the Doilies
By Mollie Cox Bryan
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Mollie Cox Bryan
All rights reserved.
Did Jane just say "police station?"
"What did you say?" Cora Chevalier said, then typed on her laptop: Every detail — from the mundane cleaning of the chestnut floors and ordering of broom straw and beeswax, to crafting centerpieces and designing class curriculums — has been attended to.
No wait — attended to? Was that right?
"Cora!" Jane said, bringing her attention back to the voice on the phone.
"I'm sorry, Jane," Cora said, turning away from her computer. "Writing about our first craft retreat takes more focus than blogging about crafting paper lanterns or making bird feeders out of old teacups and saucers. I'm in the zone. But you have my full attention now. Did you say you're at the police station?"
"Yes. Please pick up London from school. We'll talk about this later," Jane said, with exasperation in her voice. Cora's best friend throughout childhood, and now her partner in a new business, Jane and her daughter lived in the carriage house on the property.
"But wait —" Cora said, but Jane was already gone. Cora pictured her sophisticated-looking, long-legged friend sitting at the police station, surrounded by Barney Fife types. A totally unfounded image, of course; she'd never even seen a police officer in her new hometown. They now lived in North Carolina, which was also where the fictional Mayberry was located, but Indigo Gap was no Mayberry.
Why was Jane at the police station? What was going on? It was odd that she couldn't get away to pick up her daughter from school. Why wouldn't the police allow her to pick up London?
Cora pressed SAVE on her blog post, glanced at the clock on her computer, and realized she'd need to hurry if she was going to fetch London. She dreaded going inside the school. Because she wasn't an actual parent, she wasn't allowed to collect her from the car. For being in such a small town, the school was extremely concerned about security. Maybe it had something to do with the recent suspicious death of the school librarian.
Cora left her attic apartment, which also housed her makeshift office, and walked down the narrow half flight of stairs to the third story. The door opened to a wide hallway. Four bedrooms, already prepared for the guests, were located here. The lemon scent of polish tickled Cora's nose as she took in the gleaming chestnut floors before descending the next flight to the second floor, also shiny and smelling clean and fresh. She moseyed down the half flight to the landing before the main story, where she always paused to take in the stained-glass window, its colors vibrant or soft depending on the time of day. Crimson, gold, and shades of blue glass pieces formed an image of Brigid, goddess or saint.
After moving into her new home, Cora had done some research on both the history of the house and St. Brigid and discovered that Brigid was a goddess in ancient Ireland. She was the goddess of poetry, fire, the hearth, and crafts, an appropriate deity for a craft retreat. Through the centuries in Ireland, the myth later became tangled with stories of the abbess and much later, the saint. These stories became so enmeshed that it was difficult to tell the Brigids apart.
Cora loved to muse about Brigid and thought of her as her patron goddess. The original owners of the house must also have had a strong connection to Brigid, as they had immigrated from Kildare, Ireland, where St. Brigid's Cathedral still sat.
Cora ambled down the rest of the stairs to face a mess in the foyer. She was knee-deep in a shipment of broom straw, which she navigated her way around. Their first guest teacher, Jude Sawyer, an award-winning broom maker, hand selected and ordered the straw for the upcoming weekend retreat.
Now, where had she left her purse? Cora worked her way around the boxes and moved toward the kitchen, which was in the back of the house and where she usually left her purse.
Ah-ha! She spotted it on the kitchen counter. She grabbed her crocheted bag and turned to leave, running smack into Ruby, the woman who came with the house. Literally. She was grandfathered into the mortgage. She'd lived in the gardener's cottage for years and wanted to stay. Luckily for Cora and Jane, she was a gifted herbalist and fit right in with their plans for the old place.
"Oops!" Cora said, dropping her purse and bending over to get it.
"Where are you off to in such a hurry?" Ruby said, sounding accusatory.
"I'm off to pick up London. Something's come up with Jane." Cora was again thinking of Jane at the police station — she wanted to laugh the image off, but ominous feelings tugged at her.
What the heck was Jane doing there? Where was the police station, anyway? Cora had witnessed much of Jane's troubled past and hoped this incident was not a harbinger of more trouble heading her way.
"Okay. I need to talk with you," Ruby said, following Cora to the door.
"Sure," Cora said. "But can it wait until I get back?"
"I suppose. It's about the beeswax shipment. They sent me the wrong stuff."
"Great." Cora sighed as she slid in her car. "Just what we need. We'll take care of it later."
Ruby stood with hands on her hips, shaking her head as she watched Cora drive off.
"Take a deep breath, girl," Cora told herself. She'd smooth things over with Ruby after she picked up London. Ruby, a slightly stooped white-haired woman of a certain age, used specific suppliers for her herbal crafts. But if Cora was going to pay for them, she thought she should get a say in it. Simply one of the little hiccups in establishing a new business, Cora told herself. There had been plenty — and she expected more.
Getting the place in shape and up to code had been a challenge, but things were finally coming together. The paper-craft room was almost finished. The fiber-arts room still needed a lot more work. And her first three-day retreat was scheduled to start Thursday night with a welcome reception. Classes were to be led by Cora herself, a guest teacher, and Ruby. Nine women registered to stay, plus three locals signed up for the classes. Cora couldn't have been more pleased with the number. Oh sure, they could take more crafters, but for their first retreat, nine was manageable.
Cora parked the car in the school lot, and noted the snaking line of cars full of harried parents. She was impressed with herself, as she'd reached the school a few minutes early. Cora had been to the school before and knew the earlier she arrived, the better. She walked into the office and was met by a well-coiffed receptionist. "Can I help you?" the woman asked.
"I'm here to pick up London Starr."
"Are you on her approved list?" She gazed at Cora over the top of her glasses.
"I think so," Cora said. Something about the woman's tone made her self-conscious. Her perfectly made-up face and hot-pink nails tapping impatiently on the desk didn't help matters.
Cora tried to remember if she'd even brushed her hair today. At least she had gotten dressed earlier than usual because of the expected deliveries. She wore her favorite 1970s vintage blue baby-doll dress with leggings and red tennis shoes. Nothing wrong with what she was wearing, yet this woman spewed bad vibes. Was it Cora's unruly red hair? She ran her fingers through her bangs and tucked a few strands behind her ear.
"Name?" said the receptionist.
"Yes, Ms. Chevalier. You are on the list," the receptionist said, after checking her computer files.
Cora stood a little straighter, now that she'd met with official approval.
"Ms. Teal?" the receptionist said into the phone. "Please send London Starr to the front office. She'll be right down," she said to Cora and went back to her work on the computer.
Cora shifted her weight, looked at the clock, and folded her hands together in front of her. The office behind the receptionist buzzed with end-of-school-day activity. Phones were blaring, backpacks were handed over, and weary office workers glanced at the clock.
Soon the door flung open and there stood London, holding Ms. Teal's hand. When she spotted Cora, the girl ran toward her.
"Cora!" she said and hugged her, but then immediately asked, "Where's Mommy?"
Cora was just about to blurt out the news when she realized that everybody in the little school office was within hearing range. Best not to say, Your mom's at the police station.
She reached for London's hand. "Let's go, sweetie. We'll talk in the car."CHAPTER 2
Indigo Gap was exactly the kind of small town Cora dreamed about moving to when she envisioned a major change in her life. Time had almost forgotten Indigo Gap. Located in the mountains of western North Carolina, it had been bypassed by major transportation systems — like railways, highways, and so on. While the town had moved forward with some things — like electricity and plumbing, thank goodness — many of the original streets and much architecture from its founding days in the early 1800s still existed. Even a few of the stone streets had been left alone — now closed off to cars, but not to pedestrians. As Cora drove toward her new home on the other side of town from the school, she reminded herself that though this place was perfect for her new life, it was a small town and she certainly didn't want the rumor mill cranking about Jane being at the police station. That's all she needed.
One bad incident could mean disaster for her new business — and for those who took a chance with her.
London had forgotten her earlier question about her mother and did nothing but sing to the Stevie Nicks track playing in the car. Cora smiled, approving of the child's good taste in music. Cora adored London's singing — the unbridled, off-key gusto that only a five-year-old offered.
Jane was still not home when Cora and London arrived. London hopped out of the car with her Frozen backpack sliding off her shoulders, the blue of the bag almost matching the girl's eyes.
"Why don't we go into the kitchen and get you a snack?" Cora said.
"Do you have any of those peanut butter cookies?" London glanced at Cora, and then she twirled down the back sidewalk.
The cookies London wanted were not cookies at all but rather Cora's special peanut butter-oatmeal protein balls. The protein balls offered no added sugar and were full of vitamins and protein. What London didn't know wouldn't hurt her, Cora mused. The two of them walked around to the back of the large Victorian home. Cora pushed open the iron gate, which was original to the property, and sauntered down the flagstone sidewalk and up the stairs to the back door of the screened-in porch. London led the way — or rather skipped and danced the way, singing her own tune.
"What did you learn in school today?" Cora said, opening the back door.
"I met the new librarian. The old one died, you know, so we had to get a new one," London said, flinging her backpack onto a kitchen chair.
"What's the new one like?" Cora asked, reaching into the fridge to get the "cookies."
London started to reply, but was interrupted by the doorbell.
"I'll be back," Cora said. Was she expecting another delivery? She didn't remember. She thought she had everything she needed by this point.
She headed down the chestnut-floored hallway to the front door. The floors alone had almost convinced her to buy the house when she had first toured the place. The inspector said that because of all the chestnut used in the house, it would be the last place standing in town if a disaster ever occurred.
She opened the door to find the caterer for the retreat. Uh-oh. She had forgotten about their meeting. "Hi, Ms. Day, come in. Please excuse the boxes. I just got in a shipment of broom straw."
"No problem, Cora. It won't take long to go over and finalize these menus," Darla Day said. She was a young woman with a crisp and clean look, with a personality to suit. She wore a light blue oxford shirt, tiny pearl earrings, and a gold chain with a heart-shaped locket.
"I was hoping Jane would be here, but I'm afraid she's indisposed," Cora said. At the police station. "In fact, her five-year-old is in the kitchen. I need to check in on her and I'll be right with you. Please take a seat in the sitting room," she said, gesturing to the room she had taken such pride in furnishing with overstuffed chairs and couches, big pillows on the floor and around the fireplace, and the arts and crafts made by herself or other generous crafters. The Moroccan-tiled mosaic table was a gift from one of the women in the shelter. A lush chocolate- colored macramé wall hanging hung over the fireplace. Hand- loomed earth-toned rugs were scattered through the room. When Cora mentioned her dream of opening a craft retreat, crafters donated their work — she never asked. Somehow, the room came together as a sort of upscale shabby-chic space that beckoned with warmth and cozy ambience.
"London?" Cora called as she entered the kitchen.
London peeked up over her picture book. "It's a good story, Cora." The child didn't want to be bothered.
"I'll read it later but now I have a meeting in the sitting room. Do you want to come in there with me?"
London's eyebrows lifted as if to say, "I'm reading, why don't you leave me alone?" This was a child who had never been treated like a child. As much as Cora loved Jane, she felt Jane had always expected a bit too much from her daughter.
"Or will you be okay here?" Cora asked.
"I'm good," London said, and popped another protein ball into her mouth.
Well, okay, then.
Cora left her alone, went into the other room, and sat down next to the caterer on the big velvet sofa. "Now, what do you have for me to review?"
"Local wine and cheese for the opening reception," Darla said, and presented her with an itemized list and a contract to sign.
After reading everything over, Cora signed her name, trying not to let the cost give her heart palpitations. They were not set up to cook and serve food to large groups of people — yet. The kitchen left a lot to be desired. The retreat fee included a welcome reception, plus three lavish brunches. On the last night, they scheduled a dessert party. Cora hoped this arrangement placed her in good stead with some other local cafés and restaurants. Her guests would be venturing out for their own meals from time to time, even though she planned enough food for the brunches that they could possibly snack on the rest of the day. Snacks were important to creativity.
"We're getting as much local produce in for your brunches as we can. But what about the dessert party? Do you want to go with a chocolate theme or a seasonal theme — apple pie, pumpkin pie, and so on?" she asked. When Darla said chocolate, a youthful expression came over her face. Cora then wondered if Darla was younger than her first impression implied.
Cora thought a moment about her dessert choices. Her first inclination was always chocolate. But the retreat was advertised as a fall harvest and Halloween retreat. "Will we have plenty of apple and pumpkin food otherwise?"
Darla nodded. "Chocolate then?"
Cora couldn't resist. Her French roots made chocolate a necessity to her life. At least that's what she told herself.
A commotion erupted in the kitchen, and Jane's voice came trailing down the hall.
"You didn't need to worry about me, sweetie, I was just at the police station being fingerprinted," Jane said as she entered the room, with London in tow.
Darla lifted an eyebrow as she caught Cora's eye.
"Jane," Cora said. "I'm so glad you were able to make it. This is Ms. Day, the caterer for our retreat."
Jane held out her hand. "Nice to meet you," she stammered.
Darla nodded. "Well, actually, I think we are about done here." She stood, shook Jane's hand, never making eye contact, then immediately began gathering her things and shoving them into her bags. "We'll see you Thursday. Call me if there's anything you need before then," she said.
"Okay," Cora managed to say before Darla hightailed it out the door.
A flummoxed Cora turned toward an equally confused Jane.
"Was it something I said?"
Excerpted from Death Among the Doilies by Mollie Cox Bryan. Copyright © 2016 Mollie Cox Bryan. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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