In tracing her ancestry, quilter Martha Rose discovers a ritzy half-sister, a stash of family secrets, and a decades-old mystery that only she can unravel . . .
Martha Rose is shocked to find she has a half-sister, especially one so different from her. Giselle Cole is wealthy, widowed, and lives a glamorous life in West Los Angeles. At least her grandmother was a quilter! But Giselle can’t answer Martha’s many questions about their father—he disappeared when she was only a child and the few clues left behind indicate he may have been murdered. So Martha and Giselle team up on an investigation that weaves them through the streets of L.A., their father’s hidden love affairs, and into some mysterious unfinished Cole family business . . .
Praise for Mary Marks and her Quilting Mysteries
“A pleasurable and satisfying addition to any quilting mystery fan’s reading list. Recommend to those who cannot get enough of Terri Thayer, Elizabeth Craig, or Earlene Fowler.”
—Library Journal on Knot in My Backyard
“Readers will be surprised by the ending.”
—RT Book Reviews on Knot What You Think
About the Author
Born and raised in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, Mary Marks earned a B.A. in Anthropology from UCLA and an M.A. in Public Administration from the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. In 2004 she enrolled in the UCLA Extension Writers Program. Her first novel, Forget Me Knot, was a finalist in a national writing competition in 2011. She is currently a reviewer of cozy mysteries for The New York Journal of Books at www.nyjournalofbooks.com. Readers can visit her at www.marymarksmysteries.com and www.facebook.com/mmarks2013.
Read an Excerpt
Jazz Fletcher put down his needle and raised his hand to block his eyes. "That rock is blinding me! Who did you have to sleep with to get that?" He pointed to my left hand and grinned, tan cheeks spreading wide at his own joke.
I glanced at the rainbow-colored sparkles coming from the enormous engagement ring on my finger. My fiancé, Yossi Levy, aka Crusher, insisted I wear it to ward off any unwanted advances. Not that there were a hundred men waiting in line for me. After all, I was in my late fifties with a head full of unruly gray curls and wore size-sixteen jeans. No, Crusher was more concerned about sending a clear message to his rival, my ex-boyfriend LAPD Detective Arlo Beavers.
"Yossi officially gave up his apartment and moved in yesterday, and I thought it was the right thing to do." Tiny motes of dust danced in the beams of strong LA sunlight streaming through my living room windows. I straightened my arm and wiggled my finger. "It is beautiful. But I still think fabric stores, and not diamonds, are a girl's best friend."
My name is Martha Rose, and it was Quilty Tuesday, the day my friends and I got together to sew, no matter what. My best friend, Lucy Mondello, sat on one end of my cream-colored sofa, while Jazz Fletcher, the newest member of our little group, sat at the other end. Our weekly gathering felt strangely incomplete without our friend Birdie Watson. She and her new husband were off on a one- month road trip in their Winnebago.
Jazz reached toward the glass coffee table and removed yet another slice of banana-walnut bread from my favorite china plate with the pink roses. He waved it briefly before shoving it in his mouth. "I'm going to have to put some extra time in at the gym."
Like me, he was in his fifties, but that was where the resemblance ended. He colored over his gray hair with a warm brown and worked out four times a week. A formfitting blue silk shirt showed off his firm abs and biceps. I hated that men aged better than women. It so wasn't fair.
"Is it time to start planning another wedding?" My orange-haired friend Lucy stopped sewing the pink Sunbonnet Sue quilt block for her newest granddaughter. She stood and headed for the kitchen with her empty cup. Even though she was in her sixties, the five-foot-eleven-inch-tall Lucy Mondello still had the bearing of a runway model.
I rolled my eyes. "Give me a break. Yossi only moved in twenty-four hours ago. I need time to decide whether this arrangement is going to work out before even thinking about the next step."
"When you do decide, I've got dibs on making your wedding gown." Jazz, a former costumer for female impersonators, now designed high-end menswear and clothing for dogs.
I smiled at the suggestion. I'd seen photos of some of the elaborate gowns he'd made thirty years ago. "No offense, Jazz, but when I get married again — and I'm not saying I will — it won't be in a green satin gown with a bustle and a ten-foot train."
He sniffed down his nose at my outfit. "Well, friends don't let friends get married in jeans and a T-shirt. I hate to say this, Martha, but my Zsa Zsa dresses better than you." He reached down and stroked the petite white Maltese sleeping on the sofa next to him. Today she wore a matching blue silk pinafore. She did look more stylish than me.
Lucy returned from the kitchen. "I'm sure there's a middle ground somewhere in there." She held out her still-empty cup. "There's no more coffee in the pot."
Grateful for the distraction, I jumped up. "I'll make some more."
As I finished pouring everyone a refill from a steaming pot of fresh Italian roast, someone knocked on my front door. Through the peephole, I spotted the back of a brown uniform walking away toward a brown delivery truck. I retrieved a small package sitting on the front porch; a little white cardboard box with a green double helix logo and the name Deep Roots. I thought UPS had made a mistake until I saw my name clearly printed on the mailing label.
What was Deep Roots, and who sent the package?
"Who was that?" Lucy asked as I returned to the living room.
I handed her the box. "This is addressed to me, but I have no idea what it is."
Her eyes lit up. "A mysterious package? Open it!"
Sewing scissors should never be used to cut anything but fabric and thread, otherwise the blades lose their edge. I retrieved a pair of utility scissors from a drawer in the kitchen, returned to the living room, and raked the open blade through the tape that sealed the package. A smaller box with a return label sat inside, along with an empty glass vial, a questionnaire, and instructions printed on a card.
"Read it." Jazz had moved next to my chair and looked over my shoulder.
Congratulations. You are about to embark on a fascinating journey into your own unique personal history. Fill the vial with saliva and screw on the top securely. Complete the enclosed form and return both in the container provided. Because you chose the expedited service, your results will be available within a week.
Jazz moved back to his place on the sofa. "Spitting in a bottle? Sounds like one of those DNA testing services. I didn't know you were into genealogy."
I slowly moved my head from side to side, bewildered. "I'm not. It's true I know nothing about my father's side of the family, but I certainly didn't order this test."
Jazz sank back into the soft cushion and spoke gently. "If you don't mind my asking, why the big mystery about your father?"
"There's not much to tell. I never knew him. I grew up thinking he'd died in a train wreck before I was born. But a couple of years ago I learned the truth."
Jazz leaned forward. "I'm all ears. Dish."
Lucy, who had heard the story before, sat quietly sipping her coffee.
"It was the mid-fifties. My mother, Shirley, was only eighteen. She lived with her mother and her brother — my bubbie and my uncle Isaac — in Iowa. She was always a little, well, different, and spent most of her time alone."
"What do you mean by 'different'?" Jazz bit another man-sized chunk out of the banana bread.
I shook my head sadly, remembering how I grew up believing her detachment was my fault. "I don't know what you'd call it. She just failed to connect with the world. She lived in a reality that existed only inside her head."
"And your father?" asked Jazz. "How did they meet?"
I shrugged. "All she would say was he'd come one summer to paint the bluffs along the Missouri River that separated Council Bluffs from Omaha."
"So he was an artist?"
"I guess so. As soon as he learned my mother was pregnant, he left town. That's the last anybody saw of him."
"Didn't anyone try to find him?"
"Uncle Isaac discovered my mother had been a frequent visitor to the man's hotel room. My uncle went to the hotel and found he'd registered with just one name, Quinn. We didn't know if that was his first or last name."
"Wait." Jazz held up his hand. "Surely your mother knew?"
"She only ever called him Quinn. Anyway, he had vanished."
Jazz covered his mouth with his hand. "How awful for your poor mother."
I nodded. "Having an illegitimate child in the nineteen fifties would've made her an outcast and ruined the family. So, Uncle Isaac and Bubbie whisked my mother away to Los Angeles, where nobody knew them, and reinvented her life. I was born in June of the following year."
"How did your family explain away the absence of a father?"
"Uncle Isaac and Bubbie convinced my mother to pose as a tragic young widow. The story they told everyone — including me — was that my father died in a train accident. Uncle Isaac opened a tailoring business on Pico Boulevard and supported the four of us. He's the only father I ever had."
"Don't you know anything more?"
"Unfortunately, no. I grew up believing the story about Quinn's tragic death. So, when my daughter was born, I named her Quincy to honor the father I never knew. It's traditional for an Ashkenazi Jewish child to be named after a close relative who is deceased."
"Ashke-who?" he asked.
"Ashkenazi Jews are from northern and eastern Europe. Sephardi Jews are from the Mediterranean and the Middle East. The two groups often have different customs. Anyway, according to the European tradition, naming a child after a living relative might confuse the malach hamoved, the angel of death, into snatching the child instead of the adult."
"What happened when you learned the real story? I find it hard to believe you didn't try to find him."
"When I learned the truth two years ago, I tried the Internet. I thought I might be able to trace him through his paintings but came up empty."
I studied the faces of my two friends and held up the glass vial. "Do you know who's responsible for this?"
Lucy shrugged and Jazz turned up the palms of his hands. "How could I? This is the first time I've heard your story. But obviously, someone is encouraging you to find out. Maybe your daughter, Quincy? After all, it's her family, too. Besides, aren't you a teensy bit curious?"
I didn't respond at first. Hadn't I always felt a huge gap in my life? Quinn didn't seem like a Jewish name. So, who was my father? "To be honest, I have wondered. More so since I learned the real story."
Lucy stirred in her seat and joined the conversation. "Well then, go for it, girlfriend. You could be related to English aristocracy for all you know."
"In which case," Jazz added, "you'd be obligated to let me redo your wardrobe. A touch of Downton Abbey wouldn't hurt you, even if you are a bit ample in the chest area." He ignored the stink eye I threw his way. "I'm just saying ..."
"I'll decide whether to go through with the test when I discover who sent it to me and why."
"Oh, go ahead," Lucy said. "It's time you knew."
At six that evening, I was chopping veggies for a salad when I heard Crusher's key in the lock.
His voice boomed from the open doorway. "I'm home, babe." He dropped his keys into the brass dish on the hall table and tossed his leather jacket over the back of a chair.
If this living together thing was going to work, either he would have to learn to hang up his own clothes, or I'd have to learn to let his sloppy habits slide. I was more likely to fit into size-four jeans before that happened. I looked pointedly at the chair and raised my eyebrows.
He got the message and barked out a laugh. "Aye, aye, Captain." After hanging the jacket in the closet, he clomped into the kitchen with his size- fourteen brown boots. I stood at five feet two, forcing him to bend way down to kiss the crook of my neck. His mostly gray beard tickled my skin, sending an electrical charge through my body. "How was your day, Mrs. Levy?" He lifted me with a bear hug and planted another kiss on my mouth.
"I'm not Mrs. Levy yet," I reminded him, as he lowered me to the ground.
Crusher raised my left hand and looked at the sparkly diamond he'd placed there yesterday. His blue eyes softened and he smiled. "As good as."
He was right. The ring finally defined our relationship as exclusive and serious. For the first time since my divorce from Aaron Rose twenty years ago, I felt safe enough to take another chance on marriage. Almost.
I picked up the knife again and began slicing a Persian cucumber. "I received a package today. From Deep Roots. Did you buy me a DNA test kit?"
He popped three slices into his mouth, crunching. "DNA? Why would I do that?"
"Well, maybe your Orthodox family back in New York wants you to make sure I'm really Jewish before you marry me."
He coughed vigorously, choking momentarily on the cucumber. "You serious? I know you're Jewish. That's enough for them. Besides, if they were to object, it'd be because we won't be having children." He lifted his hand to the bandana he always wore as a religious head covering. "Pru u'revu. Be fruitful and multiply. It's the first commandment in Torah."
"Well, how do they feel about your marrying a woman who's too old to have any more children? After all, you're only fifty. Maybe they still hope you'll find a young wife and start a family." I stopped slicing and turned to face him. I wanted to gauge the sincerity of his response. I would never marry a man whose family wouldn't accept me or my daughter.
"Tay-Sachs." He looked at the floor as he spoke about the genetic Jewish disease. "There's too much of it in our family. I'm a carrier. Everyone knows I chose years ago never to have children because of that."
I stepped toward him, encircled the big man with my arms, and laid my cheek on his chest. "I'm so sorry, Yossi. You would've made the best dad."
We stood like that in silence for several seconds, each lost in our own thoughts. Then he kissed the top of my head. "I bet it was Quincy. Ask her if she sent you the kit."
After dinner, I called my daughter, who lived three thousand miles away in Boston.
"Hi, Mom. I'm glad you phoned. I wondered when it would arrive. I paid extra for expedited service, so the sooner you send them your sample, the sooner we'll know."
"Wait, honey. Slow down. What is it you're looking for?"
"Okay. After you told me the real story about my mysterious grandfather, I couldn't stop thinking about him. I mean, who was he? Where did he come from? I figured you had to be curious, too. Right? Consider this an early Hanukkah present."
"That's very generous, Quincy. Thanks. But why can't you just send in your own DNA? Won't you get the same answers?"
"I have sent in a sample. But you've inherited fifty percent of your father's DNA. I've only got a twenty-five percent share. Your sample will get a more complete picture of who he was and where he came from. Besides, don't you deserve to know who you really are after all those years of deception? Be brave, Mom. Do it for yourself. Do it for me. And when you fill out the form, be sure to check the option to share information with other subscribers so I can see the results, too."
I sighed. "Well, if it means that much to you, I'll send off the sample tomorrow."
"Awesome. Who knows? We could be related to English aristocracy."
Oh my God. Didn't Lucy say the same thing? "But what if we're related to a Sardinian pig farmer, instead?"
She giggled. "In that case, those little piggies would have nothing to fear from you. Besides, what's the worst that could happen?"CHAPTER 2
Eight days after I dropped my DNA sample in the mail, a message from Deep Roots arrived in my in-box. My heart sped up a little and I stared at my computer screen. After such a long time, was I finally ready to learn the truth about my father?
Crusher wasn't around to give me moral support, so I called my best friend. "Lucy, I just got a message saying my DNA results are ready. You may think I'm crazy, but I'm all by myself and I'm kind of scared to look."
Fifteen minutes later, she strode through my door, wearing an Ann Taylor gray pantsuit and a rope of twisted yellow gold around her neck.
"You look great," I said. "Why are you all dressed up?"
"Ray and I have a meeting with our lawyer in a half hour. I've only got a few minutes."
We sat at my kitchen table, where I had parked my laptop. The cursor blinked beside the link on the e-mail.
"Okay, hon." She leaned in so closely I could smell her Jungle Gardenia perfume. "Take a deep breath and click on the link."
"Here goes nothing." One tap on the keyboard and a green double helix logo filled the home page of Deep Roots. I followed the instructions to log in and got a welcome message, along with a menu of options. Ancestry sat at the top of the list. I glanced at Lucy.
"Go on," she urged.
I tapped again and a pie chart filled the screen. Half was colored blue and the other half was divided into different-colored slices. "Look. Only half of my DNA is Ashkenazi Jewish. I now know for sure my father was Gentile." The other pieces of the pie revealed I had Northwestern European ancestry, with a heavy dose of British and Irish genes, and just a smattering of German.
"Are you surprised?" Lucy asked.
"Not really. There weren't many Jews in the small town in Iowa where my family lived, so I kind of expected as much. Besides, Quinn isn't a Jewish name — it's Irish. I looked it up once. It can be either a first or a last name."
Lucy pursed her lips. "Irish. Is that where Quincy gets her red hair?"
My daughter had a head full of spectacular copper-colored curls, milky skin, and hazel eyes.
"I think so. When Quincy was a baby, my mother used to look at her funny. 'She looks just like your father,' she'd say. Then Uncle Isaac would rush in and change the subject. Now I know why. He was keeping me from asking too many questions."
"Your uncle was only trying to protect you."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Knot My Sister's Keeper"
Copyright © 2018 Mary Marks.
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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