The Craft Fair may have hit a few snags lately, but knitting enthusiast Lia Geiger is hopeful her quiet life will return to its usual patterns in no time. Her daughter has officially moved back home, and sure, the house is a little crowded with Hayley's take-home work from the alpaca farm, but that's a price Lia will happily pay. All seems well until Cori Littlefield, a new vendor with a gift for crochet, is found dead, sending shock waves through all of Crandalsburg.
What begins as a tragic accident turns into a snarled spool of lies that only the combined efforts of the Ninth Street Knitters can untangle. When Lia makes a connection between Cori's death and a decades-old murder, it's up to her to weave together the clues and find the truth.
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It was the dream again. Cori could only watch as Jessica walked away. She wanted to call out, No! Stay here! But she couldn't. She could only follow. As she did every time.
Jessica had always been her favorite babysitter. She made her laugh and played games with her. And she read to her better than anyone. She'd do funny voices and make up things that Cori knew weren't really in the story. They made the story so much better!
But Jessica didn't come to babysit anymore. She told Cori she was getting too busy. She was in college now, and she had a boyfriend. Was that where she was going? To see her boyfriend? That was why Cori followed. She was curious.
At first, Jessica caught her following and told her to go home. "You can't come with me, Cori," she said, her hands sternly on her hips.
"Because you can't. Now, go back!"
But Cori didn't want to go back. She started to cry.
Jessica hesitated, and Cori thought she might relent and let her come with her, until Jessica said, "I'll come see you another time."
"When?" Cori asked.
Jessica looked impatient, but she said, "Tomorrow. Okay?"
Cori sniffed hard. "Promise."
"I promise. Now, go home."
Cori turned around, but after a few steps she stopped and looked back. She saw Jessica walking again, and she hid behind a tree until Jessica got far ahead. Then Cori followed.
She wasn't supposed to go there, she knew that. There were lots of trees that made it dark and places where you could fall down real far. Her mother told Cori not to ever go there unless she or someone big was with her. But Jessica was a big person, wasn't she? She didn't know Cori was there, but that didn't matter, did it? It only meant she wouldn't tell Cori's mom, but that made it even better.
It was a long walk, a lot of it was uphill, and Cori got tired. She had to sit down. Jessica kept walking, but she wasn't going very fast and there was the path to stay on. Cori could catch up. When she felt better, Cori ran up the path but stopped when she heard voices. She hid behind a clump of bushes and crouched way down. She recognized Jessica's voice, but she didn't know the other one. Jessica was talking the most, so Cori listened to her. She liked listening to Jessica, and after a while Cori decided to come out. Maybe Jessica would tell her a story-like the ones she used to read aloud to Cori. Jessica would be so surprised to see her, but she wouldn't mind. It would be such a good joke!
The sun blinded Cori when she came out from her hiding place, shining right into her eyes. She put her hands up to shade them, but it didn't help. She was standing still and blinking from the sun when she heard Jessica scream.
"Jessica!" Cori cried, and she ran blindly toward the scream-until she saw the big, dark figure. It wasn't Jessica. It was the other voice. It started to come toward her, and Cori screamed, and screamed, and screamed.
Until she woke up.
Lia heard the shout and looked up from her booth.
"Everyone! Your attention, please." Belinda, the Crandalsburg Craft Fair's manager, stood in the center of the fair barn, a folded newspaper held high. "Our craft fair got some great publicity today!" she announced as she turned toward the vendor next to Lia. "Thanks to our new member, Cori Littlefield. It's a full-page story loaded with color photos of Cori's creations!"
The vendors clapped and cheered as Belinda handed out extra copies of the paper to pass around.
"Cori, that's wonderful!" Lia cried from her knitting booth.
Lia had been delighted to hear about their new vendor, especially when she learned that the stall would be filled with crocheted items. Not your usual shawls and throws, though. Cori Littlefield crocheted artistic and wonderfully realistic vegetables, flowers, whimsical animals, and just about anything that happened to come into her creative mind and through her nimble fingers.
Other vendors came over to congratulate the crochet artist. Cori certainly deserved the praise, and she looked genuinely pleased. But when, after a few minutes, Lia saw
the young woman's smiles along with her posture stiffen, she stepped in.
"Cori needs a little time to get ready, guys. Let's save the rest of this for later, okay?"
Lia had recently given up her end-of-the-row spot to Cori, after Belinda, her longtime friend as well as the craft fair manager, approached her about it. Lia had at first hesitated. She'd grown accustomed to her spot. But after learning that Cori needed to be near an exit to avoid feeling closed in, she'd readily agreed.
"The easiest for everyone, of course, would be to just put her in the empty booth farther up the row," Belinda had said. "Everyone else, that is, not Cori. But besides the advantage of the side exit, I think you're the perfect person to be next to her. She's, well, just a little different; anxious, you might say. She'll be fine, really, but she might need to leave the barn once in a while to be alone for a few minutes. I fell in love with her work and felt any inconvenience that might cause would be well worth it. She'll be a great addition to the craft fair."
Belinda hadn't added what Lia knew must be going through her mind: that the craft fair needed a boost after what it had gone through only a few weeks earlier. The discovery of Belinda's murdered ex-husband in the middle of the empty craft fair barn had not been good for the fair's business, to say the least, and Belinda had been in grave danger, financially and otherwise, when suspicion was cast her way. Attendance numbers had dropped drastically, only slowly recovering after the actual murderer had been arrested and the news media turned to other stories. An exciting new vendor for the fair, therefore, was a definite plus.
"Need some fresh air?" Lia asked Cori after the other vendors left to go back to their stations.
Cori shook her head. "I'm okay. Thanks." She brushed back the bangs of her short brown hair. "It was nice of them."
"We're all really happy for you, Cori. This'll be so great for your booth. You just might sell out this weekend!"
"Then I'll have to get busy working on more things!" Cori said it with a laugh, which Lia was glad to hear. The first weekend that this young woman-thirty-two in Lia's book was still young-had joined the fair, she had struggled as a salesperson, an important skill that all the vendors had to learn. Lia had given her tips about dealing with customers, but because of her intense shyness, Lia was sure it had required much concentration and effort. She could only imagine the exhaustion it brought on and understood the need for occasional recharging breaks.
"Yes, crochet lots of your beautiful art," Lia encouraged her. "The world will be eager for it."
Cori laughed again, and Lia decided her neighbor was fine. Once the craft fair barn doors were opened and shoppers rushed to Cori's booth, she would be ready to deal with them. And with a little luck, Lia's booth would catch a bit of spillover, not that her Ninth Street Knits needed much help. Over the months, its sales had been steady, both from returning customers and from newcomers drawn by word of mouth-the best kind of publicity.
Lia's late husband, Tom, would have been proud of how she'd turned her knitting skills into a new career, with the help, of course, of her wonderful knitting friends. Losing him just as they'd decided to take an early retirement had been a blow, but she'd managed to struggle through the terrible twist life had thrown her and come to a pretty good place. Surrounded now with new friends and with a new purpose, Lia was more content than she'd ever expected to be.
She had been seeing positive changes in Belinda, too, the latest being Belinda's cheery, rallying announcement that morning. The old Belinda had tended toward impatient faultfinding, a product of her personal struggles and insecurities. But she'd been working on being a more engaging manager, which had the effect of easing her own problems. Funny how that worked.
"Here we go, guys!" Bill Landry, the craft fair's security officer, called out, giving everyone a heads-up that he was about to open the doors.
Lia saw vendors turn as a group toward the main entrance, faces bright and hopeful. A new day at the Crandalsburg Craft Fair was about to begin, and who knew what it would bring on that August Sunday morning?
As Bill slid the large barn doors apart, Lia was happy to see a healthy number of eager shoppers waiting on the other side. It wasn't the huge crowd it had once been, but it looked a little larger than last week's, which was encouraging.
The usual pattern for new arrivals was to work their way gradually down the line of booths. That meant stopping first at Gilbert Bowen's candles to the immediate left or Lou Krause's metal sculptures on the right. The exception to that was Carolyn Hanson's marvelous baked goods, which pulled many regulars directly across the barn to her centrally located booth.
Lia was used to waiting for shoppers to eventually make their way to her far-corner spot and had a folding chair to sit on and knit until that happened. But that morning she saw several people bustling in her direction, though they passed her by in favor of Cori. Lia wasn't the least bit surprised.
"Here they are!" one woman called to her lagging friend. "Those crocheted things we saw in the paper!"
Another two had quick-stepped around her to reach Cori's counter first. "Oh, look at those!" one said to her companion. "Crocheted hyacinths in little pots. How clever."
"And these teddy bears!" another cried. "Have you ever seen anything so sweet?"
The crowd continued to grow, a few possibly drawn by curiosity over what the fuss was about but staying to browse and many to buy. Lia did get an overflow customer from the group, but only because the woman couldn't reach Cori's counter yet. She bought two pairs of Lia's cozy knit bed socks.
"Future Christmas presents," the woman explained. Lia complimented her on her foresight and planning, then watched her customer rejoin the others clustered around Cori's booth. Lia glanced to her right at Olivia, who'd been watching from behind her stacks of handmade soaps and essential oils. Olivia grinned and shrugged, knowing, as all vendors did, that business ebbed and flowed and usually evened out in the long run. Their time, she seemed to say, would come.
As the crowd in front of Creative Crochets began to show signs of impatience with the slow service, Lia asked Olivia to keep an eye on her booth and slipped over to give Cori a hand.
"The turquoise wall hanging?" Lia asked the woman who pointed over the counter, the noise level making it difficult to communicate. Getting head bobs in response, Lia detached the piece from its hook and showed the woman its price tag. She took the cash payment and quickly made change from the stash Cori slid toward her.
Lia next handled the sale of three mini teddy bears, and after that a life-sized crocheted parakeet, one of Lia's favorites, which she was almost sad to see go. Between the two of them, the crowd of customers gradually thinned to a manageable size, and Lia noticed someone looking at the knit place mats on her own counter.
"I think you're in good shape, Cori," she said. "I've got to go."
"Thanks, Lia!" Cori said as she bagged her own customer's purchase.
Lia gave her a congratulatory shoulder squeeze and hurried back to her booth, arriving just as the shopper there had lined up four multistriped mats to buy. Whew!
With that kind of busyness, Lia wasn't surprised when an hour or so later Cori, looking pale, said she needed a break. A scene like what she'd just gone through would have been stressful for anyone and might have been multiplied by ten for her. Things had slowed for the moment, and Lia nodded and waved her off, watching sympathetically as her craft booth neighbor trudged out.
When Cori returned several minutes later, she had more color in her cheeks. Lia leaned over to say, "I sold two of your bananas and a bunch of grapes! From the way that customer was eyeing your other ones, I think she'll be back for more fruit." Cori smiled and sank onto her own folding chair. "Still tired?" Lia asked.
Cori nodded. "But not so much from the sales. I didn't sleep so well last night."
"That's a shame. Just when you could use some extra energy." The look that crossed Cori's face made Lia ask, "Do you often have trouble sleeping?"
Cori shook her head, but the shadows under her eyes seemed to darken. "Only when the nightmare comes back," she said.
Just then a customer asked Lia if she could see a particular sweater hanging at the back of the booth. Lia left Cori with some reluctance but felt better later when she glanced back and saw Cori chatting easily with a customer of her own.
Afew minutes before closing time, Lia wasnÕt surprised to see Cori beginning to pack up and looking eager to take off. Though she was more than two decades younger and in apparent good health, the emotional strain clearly took a greater toll on the crochet artist than hours of standing took on Lia.
"Go ahead," Lia urged, sure that Belinda wouldn't mind her leaving a bit early. "The fair is emptying out. No need to wait." Unfortunately, only minutes after Cori left, a man dashed into the barn and headed straight for the crochet booth.
"Where is she?" he asked Lia, his eyes scouring the empty station as though expecting to find Cori tucked in a shadowy corner. "Is she still here?"
"I'm so sorry," Lia said. "She's not. But she'll be back Saturday when the craft fair reopens. We're only here on weekends."
"Shoot!" The thirty-something man dressed in a gray tee and jeans slapped his side and looked so crestfallen that Lia asked if she could help.
He pulled a photo out of his back pocket. "I wanted to ask if she could stitch up something to look like this." The photo was of a small black-and-white dog. "It's my daughter's. We saw those pictures of the crocheted animals in the paper, and my wife thought Sophia would really like one of Maxie for her birthday. She loves things like that. But her birthday's in three weeks. I don't know how fast this lady can do it."