Suzanne Cavanaugh has just about had it with her office rival at Prestige Properties. It's bad enough that Liza Devereaux is constantly needling her at work, but when she shows up at one of Suzanne’s open houses to poach potential buyers, it’s the last straw. No one in the office fails to hear the two snarling at each other.
When Liza is later found dead in her office cubicle—poisoned by a diet shake—Suzanne becomes the prime suspect. The Black Sheep Knitters have no doubt their friend has been framed—but they need to prove it. Stirred to action, they get together to catch a sneaky killer who's trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes . . .
“Members of the Black Sheep knitting group must use their sleuthing talents to rescue one of their own . . . The wrenching ordeal of a Black Sheep as a murder suspect makes this entry the strongest in Canadeo’s series.”
—Kirkus Reviews on Purls and Poison
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That scheming little minx! The woman has no conscience. No soul! She's a bald-faced liar and a cold-blooded thief.
Suzanne knew she was speeding, edging fifty in a twenty-m. p.h. zone, but she couldn't help it. Luckily, the ride from her office to Maggie's knitting shop was barely a mile down Main Street and the Plum Harbor police were not the most vigilant group in uniform.
Her foot pressed the gas pedal, her brain churning with murderous scenarios.
I've always just sucked it up. Doing a tap dance to stay ahead of her schemes. This time, she's pushed me too far.
Lost in a silent diatribe, she nearly flew right by the Black Sheep & Company shop. The sight of familiar cars parked along the street told her she was the last to arrive. She usually warned her friends when she'd be late for their weekly get together, but the thoughtful touch had slipped her mind entirely. She knew everyone would understand when they heard her story.
A parking spot came into view; Suzanne hit the brakes and aimed the huge SUV. As the vehicle came to a jerking stop, the rear fender jutted into the street and a front tire was wedged against the curb. Suzanne barely noticed and didn't care.
Without pausing for her requisite hair and lipstick check, she hopped to the sidewalk and headed for the shop, trailing her huge leather purse and knitting tote behind her.
The Victorian house, turned into a retail space, had been neglected when Lucy's friend Maggie had rescued it years ago. As usual, Maggie's artistic eye had spotted the possibilities — the ample wraparound porch that was a perfect perch for knitters in the warmer months, the faded shutters and gingerbread trim that needed only a dash of paint to restore their former glory. It was "a jewel box" now, or so Suzanne might say in a real estate listing. Not that Maggie was likely to retire and sell anytime soon.
Maggie had left her position as an art teacher at Plum Harbor High School to follow her bliss and turn her passion for needlework into a full-time career. She had recently lost her husband, and needed a complete change to pull her from her well of grief.
Using her retirement nest egg, she'd bought the building and set up a knitting shop as cozy and inviting as her living room. Comfy love seats and armchairs were carefully arranged among displays of yarn and stitching supplies. A knitting nook near the front door provided another, quiet working space, and a large room in the back served as the perfect spot for classes and demonstrations.
The apartment above was soon rented to Phoebe Meyers, who worked in the shop and was sort of a surrogate daughter for Maggie, whose own daughter Julia was away at college most of the year. Phoebe had recently graduated from a local college with a degree in fine art and Maggie had promoted her to assistant manager.
Suzanne marched up the brick walk, barely noticing the flower beds on either side, freshened for fall with bright mums and purple cabbage plants, and more autumn flowers that spilled from boxes along the porch rail.
In the shop's front window, a grinning scarecrow in a hand-stitched vest stood guard over a field of pumpkins and skeins of yarn. Just above, scarves, socks, and baby sweaters hung from a tree branch, and a few curious blackbirds looked on.
She noticed none of it. Even the sign above the door, BLACK SHEEP & COMPANY, had no effect. The sight usually elicited a wave of pure calm in expectation of chatting and stitching all evening with her very best friends.
All she wanted to do tonight was vent her heart out and soak up some sisterhood sympathy. And sip some wine. Not necessarily in that order.
She stepped inside and saw the group in the back room, seated around the big oak table. It looked like they were just about to start dinner. An appetizing scent greeted her and she remembered she'd skipped a real lunch, resorting to the dwindling stash of diet drinks she kept in the office fridge. She could have sworn she'd left a full pack there just the other day, but her co-workers were not above food pilfering. That was the least of her problems today.
Maggie walked out of the storeroom that doubled as a kitchen, a bowl of green salad in her hands.
"There you are. We weren't sure if you were coming. We just sat down to eat. Everyone was so hungry. Come, take a seat."
"Working late on a hot deal?" Lucy's tone was teasing but also admiring, Suzanne thought.
She glanced at Lucy and felt fixed to the spot. Maggie and the others — Lucy, Dana, and Phoebe — stared back, waiting for her reply.
"Not exactly ... More like having a nervous breakdown."
"Are you all right?" Maggie drew closer and touched her arm. "Did something happen at work?"
Suzanne nodded, chin trembling. She thought she might cry, but valiantly fought the urge. "Not something. Someone. You know who I mean. The name that shall not be spoken?"
Everyone knew the famous quote from the Harry Potter novels about the evil Lord Voldemort, didn't they? Even so, Suzanne was sure the meaning was clear.
Dana smiled and shook her head. "Liza Devereaux again? Or should I say the Dark Lord-ess ... ?Is that even a word?"
"Any way you say it, that woman is pure poison. She was put on this earth to drive me mad. And she finally succeeded." Suzanne felt her blood pressure shoot up all over again. "I'd like to string her up by the strap of that Prada handbag. I'd like to wrap that strand of pearls around her scrawny little throat. ..."
"Suzanne, calm down." Maggie put an arm around Suzanne's shoulder and gently guided her into a chair. "What in the world has gotten you in such a state?"
Suzanne took a breath and glanced around at the group. They looked back at her with surprise and concern. As if she'd lost her mind.
"I sound crazy, right? Maybe I am. Dana, tell me honestly. I can take it." She turned to Dana Haeger, the group's resident psychologist, half asking, half dreading a professional diagnosis. "How would you rate my sanity, on a scale of one to ten?"
Dana's expression was pure sympathy. "I'd say you were extremely distressed. Just slow down and take a breath. How can we help you?"
She did take a breath, as Dana advised. But she felt tears well up on the exhale. Lucy sat the closest; she leaned over and patted Suzanne's hand. Then handed her a glass of Chardonnay.
"Here you go. I'll get your dinner. Calm down and tell us what your mortal foe did now."
Not good to drink on an empty stomach, Suzanne reminded herself. But she took a healthy sip anyway and tried to focus.
"Stole another sale right out from under my nose, that's what. It would have been my biggest commission this year. Maybe of my entire career!"
Dana sat at the far end of the table, most of her dish filled with salad, Suzanne noticed. "Liza is that supersharp salesperson at your office, right? Your big rival?"
"To put it mildly. A rival is another mom in your kid's grade school class who bakes cuter cupcakes. Liza is a vicious predator, ready to pounce at any moment. A deeply despised nemesis. A painful thorn in my backside ..."
"I think the expression is simply a thorn in one's side," Maggie corrected in a mild tone.
"I just call 'em the way I see 'em." Suzanne shrugged.
Lucy returned with a dish of pasta that smelled and looked very tasty. She set it down in front of Suzanne along with a fork and napkin.
"Bless you." Suzanne spread the paper napkin across her lap, then tucked another under her chin to protect her black cashmere poncho. She'd been careful all day not to drag the fringe through things. Not the most practical garment she'd ever purchased, though it did hide a myriad of figure flaws, and quite stylishly. Style was way more important than convenience, or even comfort, she'd always thought.
"Carbs are calming. Nature's tranquilizer," Lucy advised.
"Dig in and tell us what went down," Phoebe urged.
Suzanne took a small, fortifying bite. "It started Sunday. I was running an open house in Harbor Hills, the two-acre zone near the country club? A jaw-dropping colonial — five bedrooms, three and a half baths, gourmet kitchen, stadium-sized family room, and a gorgeous stone fireplace that — "
"— A highly saleable property, with a high price tag to match?" Maggie selected a piece of garlic bread and passed the basket to Suzanne.
"Yes, and yes. And mine, mine, mine. Exclusively. That is, until she showed up." Suzanne felt the pressure in her head build. She knew what people meant about seeing red, and it wasn't just the sauce on the pasta. Which was delicious. She had to compliment the chef. Maggie, she suspected.
"Liza Devereaux is a killer shark hiding behind Chanel sunglasses. She can smell a juicy listing from one hundred miles away. I should have expected a sneak attack. But everything was going so smoothly, I dropped my guard."
"So Liza crashed your open house?" Phoebe prodded her.
"More like wiggled in, wearing one of her little pencil skirts and super high heels. And all that bouncy, fake hair. A great look ... if you're a size zero."
Just picturing her mortal enemy on the fatal day made Suzanne's breath catch. Suzanne was a fashionista to her friends, but Liza had a certain classic, country club look that always won first prize on the office runway. Her rival's sleek figure — practically skeletal, Suzanne thought — just made it worse. She'd often heard it said, "You can't be too thin or too rich." Liza definitely had the former down and was very close to achieving the latter.
Suzanne paused for a crunchy bite of garlic bread as her friends waited to hear more.
"She claimed that Harry, our boss, heard there was a lot of traffic and sent her to help. As if I ever need help. And certainly, not hers. It was so obvious. She wasn't getting any action on her listings that day and slunk around to poach." Suzanne took another sip of wine and continued. "Before I could check the story, Liza comes waltzing into the kitchen with Juanita and Bob Briggs. I've been cultivating those two for months. I showed them every pricey house for sale within fifty miles. A few weeks ago, they told me that they needed a break from looking. They promised to get in touch once they knew what was going on."
"That sounds reasonable," Dana said.
"Sure, I get it. But I never heard back and didn't want to be pushy. It's a fine line. Anyway, there they are. As large as life and prequalified over a million. The hunt was obviously on again, but I missed the memo."
She sighed and sipped her wine. "We all say hello, nice and polite. I could see they really liked the house. I knew they would. I'd even sent Juanita an e-mail last week about the property. Maybe she missed it? I don't know." Suzanne shrugged. "I talked them up a little, but Liza had covered the sales points and they had to go." She paused and sighed. "Looking back, I should have chased them out the door, tackled them on the lawn, thrown myself on the hood of their Land Rover...."
"Do you really do that?" Phoebe didn't look surprised, just curious. She'd recently started her own business, a sideline to her job at the shop, and often asked Suzanne for sales and marketing tips.
"Whatever it takes, Phoebe. Never hesitate to make a total fool of yourself if it will close a deal. Did I follow my own Golden Rule? No. Oh golly, do I regret it now."
"Don't be so hard on yourself. They'd already signaled they didn't want to be pressured," Dana pointed out.
"That's what I thought. On Monday, I checked to see if they were interested, but they never called back. On Tuesday, I sent an e-mail. Again, no reply."
Lucy helped herself to some salad. "Uh-oh. I think I know where this is going."
"No place good," Suzanne replied. "This afternoon we had our weekly status meeting. The sales team reports on progress with clients, new listings and closings. That sort of thing. I always dread when it's Liza's turn. I never know what she's got up her sleeve. Today, with this big phony smile, she announced she just got an offer on the Harbor Hills property. She got an offer."
"— From your clients, Juanita and Bob," Maggie filled in.
"That is so unfair! Classic pickle jar syndrome. Just classic." Lucy tossed her hands in the air while everyone else exchanged confused glances.
"Classic ... what?" Dana looked the most confused.
"It's like a pickle jar with a tight lid?" Lucy explained. "Suzanne twisted and banged, ran it under hot water. Did everything she could to pry it loose. But it didn't budge. Then Liza gives it one tiny turn and it pops right off. And Liza gets the credit, while poor Suzanne did all the work. It's a law of physics or something."
"I know what you mean. Though I doubt you'd find that one in a textbook," Maggie murmured.
"That happens all the time. I just never knew what to call it before," Phoebe said. "Ever notice when a woman is dating some guy for years, and no matter what she does, he won't commit? The next girlfriend comes along and that slacker is running down to the mall, shopping for diamond rings. Pickle jar syndrome, definitely."
"I don't know about physics, or slacker boyfriends, but in real life, pickle jar syndrome stinks," Suzanne said.
Dana had put her dish aside and opened up her knitting tote. "I hope you brought this to the attention of your boss."
"Of course I did. I put in months on these people, gallons of gas and so much smiling, I sprained a dimple."
Maggie started to say something, then caught herself. "Sounds painful," she said finally.
"Tell me about it. Liza, as phony as her stick-on eye lashes, chats them up for five seconds and waltzes off with my commission? No way, babe." Suzanne shook her head. "Over my dead body. Or her's."
"Now, now ... I know you're upset but there must be some reasonable way to sort this out." Maggie met her gaze with one of her school teacher looks. Suzanne felt herself simmer down, as if by long-conditioned reflex. "You must have confronted her. What did she say?"
"She brushed me off. The little witch. She claimed the Briggs were fair game. They must have told her I'd shown them some houses, but we hadn't gone out in a while. So she twisted it all around." Suzanne paused and then mimicked Liza's throaty, drawling tone. " 'Suzanne could have driven those people around for a year and never sold them a thing. I have an offer in hand in three days. With all due respect, isn't that what counts?' That's just what she said. In front of everyone. I was mortified."
"That's awful. How humiliating." Lucy's blue eyes were full of sympathy.
"And a total lie. I sell properties left and right and Harry Prentiss knows it." Suzanne heard her voice rising again, but she couldn't help it. "I was so mad ... I was speechless."
Phoebe had also taken out her knitting. She looked up from her work and met Suzanne's gaze. "No offense. But I don't think we've ever seen you in that mode."
A smidgen of sarcasm, but true. Suzanne had to admit. "Yes, little old me. Tongue-tied, for once in my life. All I could do was lunge across the table and try to grab a hunk of that fake hair. Lyle Croddy, this older guy who covers commercial properties, held me back. It's all extensions. She thinks no one can tell, but it's so obvious."
Maggie looked concerned. "Oh dear. Sounds like a bona fide brawl. I guess nothing was resolved?"
Suzanne shook her head and sighed. She ate a few more bites and put her dish aside. "Our boss was upset. He reprimanded both of us. Me, especially. He wants to meet with us privately first thing tomorrow morning."
"At least you have time to cool off and approach the situation in a calmer, more professional manner," Dana said.
"The situation? There was no situation until she stole my clients. I called the Briggses right away. They would have worked with me. They claimed Liza pressured them and said there were a lot of offers and they'd better get one in if they wanted the house. A classic sales tactic. I've pulled that one myself," she confessed. "But she also told them it didn't matter who they'd started with and that she could do a better job negotiating with the owners." Suzanne brushed aside a few strands of her dark hair that had stuck to her cheek. "Another out-and-out lie. She doesn't even know the owners."
"Aren't there rules? Professional guidelines or something? Is she really allowed to do that?" Lucy sounded indignant — as much as her good nature would allow. Suzanne felt grateful for her loyalty.
"If the listing had been sitting on the shelf with no action for weeks, and Liza brought in a client and made the sale, I wouldn't have minded at all. Well, maybe a little," she admitted. "But we would have just split the commission. And something is better than nothing in my book. That scenario is way different than client-napping Juanita and(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Purls and Poison"
Copyright © 2018 Anne Canadeo.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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