After leaving a decade ago, Angie has been called back to Harbor Haven by her grandmother, Charlotte, who raised her following her mother's disappearance when she was a child. Her mother has been found, and now the question of her whereabouts has sadly become the mystery of her murder.
The bright spot in Angie's homecoming is reuniting with Charlotte, who has started her own needlepointing business with a group called Mainely Needlepointers. But when a shady business associate of the stitchers dies suddenly under suspicious circumstances, Charlotte and Angie become suspects. As Angie starts to weave together clues, she discovers that this new murder may have ties to her own mother's cold case. . .
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Lea Wait
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Lea Wait
All rights reserved.
Take your needle, my child, and work at your pattern; it will come out a rose by and by. Life is like that—one stitch taken patiently and the pattern will come out all right like embroidery.
—Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894), The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table
The day had already been the sort I wanted to drown in a cold beer or a bubble bath. Preferably both. And that was before I heard Gram's voice, loud and clear as always, coming from my "missed messages."
"Angel, it's time to come home. They've found your mama."
No one in Arizona called me "Angel."
I stared across the small room I'd called home for the past ten years at the stained needlepoint cushion squashed into the corner of my couch. The couch had come from Goodwill. The cushion had come from Gram. It was her last gift before I'd lit out and left the shores of Maine and the comforts of Haven Harbor.
She'd embroidered it in the sea blues and pine greens she knew I loved. And she'd done it quickly, in simple continental stitching and petit point. But in the middle of the design, instead of the lobster or lighthouse or puffin that was usually the center of a pillow she'd designed for the tourist trade, Gram had stitched her phone number.
Large. Complete with 207 area code.
Men who'd come and gone in my life had kidded me about it. "What's that? So you won't forget to call home?"
I'd laughed. Made a joke of it. I never told them why she'd stitched the number there, even though I hadn't called home half as often as I should have.
The number was there in case I was sick, or worse, and police searching my apartment needed to find my next of kin.
Gram wanted me to be found. She hadn't wanted to lose me, as she had Mama.
I pulled my duffel out of the closet and started packing. Wally would have to find someone else to sit surveillance on young Mrs. Juanita Simpson.
Mama had been found. Gram was right. It was time to go home.
At the last minute I decided to take my gun. I wouldn't need it in Haven Harbor, but I had a case for it—and a lock. And I didn't know how long I'd be away. It would be safer to take it with me. My apartment wasn't in the classiest neighborhood. And I'd gotten used to carrying.
Nine hours, two connecting planes, and an expensive taxi ride from Portland later, I walked in the front door of the house where I'd grown up. The one my sea-roving ancestors had built, and my great-grandparents had equipped with bathrooms, a furnace, and a wide front porch. Other than that, it was pretty much the same it'd been in 1807, the year it was built. Weather-worthy and standing tall across from the village green.
"Gram! I'm home." I dropped my bags in the wide front hall and followed my nose to the kitchen, as I always had, noting along the way that the old place could use a coat of paint. There was also a new sign in the front yard, which read Mainely Needlepoint, and a section of the living room was now arranged like an office.
Gram had gone commercial on me.
Still, despite the changes she'd made and the reason for my return, I felt my blood pressure dropping as I walked into the kitchen. At least I was calm until something unexpectedly streaked by me and headed for the stairs. My pulse rate soared. Then I realized it was a large yellow coon cat.
Gram didn't live alone now, after all.
I hadn't returned her call, but she'd known I'd come. A tin of my favorite lemon sugar cookies was on the table with a note: Angel, welcome home. I'm over to the church, arranging her service. Get yourself unpacked. I'll be home soon. Love you.
I took two cookies. "One for each hand," she'd always told me when I got home from school. Her words popped into my head without my knowing they were still there.
I remembered Mama in flashes. Smells. Touches. Laughs. The hollowness after she'd gone.
At least now we'd know where she was. What else would we know? Why she'd left? Whether she'd been dead this whole time?
I hoped Gram, or the police, had the answers.
I finished off the second cookie and headed up the stairs to my room.
Gram hadn't changed it since I'd left. I'd thought I was too smart to do anything as conventional as get married, or go to college, or enroll in beauty school down in Portland, like other girls in my graduating class. Instead, I'd taken the few hundred dollars I'd managed to save up from summers working the steamer at the lobstermen's co-op and headed west. As far as I could get from anyone who knew Angela Curtis, the girl with no dad whose wild mother had disappeared.
I'd gotten as far as Mesa, Arizona, taken a couple of classes at the university there, found class work dull, and ended up working for Wally Combs, a private investigator. Ten years ago it had sounded like exciting work. But turned out investigating meant sitting outside buildings waiting for people to come out, and then snapping pictures of them if they were with people they shouldn't be. Divorces were my boss's bread and butter, so they became mine.
First I worked in the office, deciphering Wally's expense accounts and handling the billing. Then I learned to focus a camera, take notes, be observant, and not fall asleep on overnight stakeouts. Wally liked that, and encouraged me to get a license to carry. I hadn't shot anyone, although I came close one time. In a state where a lot of folks carry—and weren't hunting moose for winter meat—having a gun was almost required when you were young, female, and had a job like mine. Came in handy off the job, too. Single women living alone in my part of town needed all the help they could get.
I never planned to stay in Arizona, though. Summers there are killers, and I missed the sea and the seasons. Whatever I hadn't found at home wasn't in Arizona, either. And a lot of what I learned there I wasn't proud of.
I kept thinking I'd come back to Maine sometime. Show Haven Harbor I'd become more than that betrayed teenager they'd watch struggle to find herself.
Now I had. At least for now. I wasn't ready to commit to more than now.
My old room was a time-free zone. The rocks and dried starfish and sea glass and shells I'd found on the shore, and the books I'd pored over to help me name the sea creatures and birds and stars, were still there. My roots were deep in this coast of Maine, wound in the mermaid's hair and rockweed that covers the rocks at low tide.
So deep that my toes were permanently scarred by gashes from clam and barnacle shells. I'd always refused to wear the old sneakers Gram set aside each year for shore and rock walking, preferring the feel of the rough sands and cold waters on my feet.
Mama used to say I was born at high tide; and when the doctor lifted me up to show me the ocean, I stopped crying. The first thing she'd done when she saw me was kiss the birthmark on my shoulder. She had a matching one on hers. We were linked.
She'd always liked to party more than most, and one night, three weeks before my tenth birthday, she hadn't come home.
There were searches, of course, and police questions, but although kids whispered and pointed, no grown-up said anything directly to me. Not at first. I was too young to understand, they thought. But I knew more than they imagined. I watched people shake their heads and hold their own children closer when I came near. Gram cried at night, sometimes. I could hear her. She could probably hear me, too. But we took one day at a time, just as she said. Some days were rockier than others.
After a while the police stopped looking, so it came down to Gram and me. And we mostly did all right. At least until I was about fifteen. Folks said I took after my mama. Once, when I was wearing a bathing suit that didn't cover much, I heard someone say my birthmark was the mark of Cain. I pretended not to care.
But Haven Harbor wasn't easy on me, and I wasn't easy on Gram. She did her best, but it wasn't enough to change me.
The view out my bedroom window looked past the village and the lighthouse, out to the sea. Nothing there had changed. That's what I'd always loved about it. No matter what happened on land, the sea was always there. Always had been, always would be. Maybe life was like the tides. When I was eighteen, it was my time to go out. Now was my time to come in again.
"Angel! Angel, I know you're home! You get down here so I can see that face of yours!"
Gram. Thank goodness, Gram was still here. Steady and reliable as the sea.
I couldn't get to the staircase fast enough.CHAPTER 2
Light or fancy needlework often forms a portion of the evening's recreation for the ladies of the household, although this may be varied by an occasional game at chess or backgammon.
—Mrs. Isabella Beeton, The Book of Household Management, 1861
"Angel! You're skinny as a razor clam. Didn't you eat out there in Arizona? And you've cut your hair." Gram held me at arm's length, which wasn't far, since she was several inches shorter than I was. I grinned and looked her over, too.
"I'm not eighteen anymore, either," I agreed, laughing. "And, let's see—how have you changed?"
She brushed me off. "I'm just the same. Your old Gram. I don't change. Now set yourself down. You must be exhausted and hungry. Did you fly all night?"
"Pretty much. Slept some on the planes, though."
Gram had changed, too. Her balance of gray hair and brown now tipped toward gray; she was a bit heftier than she'd been ten years ago; a few more lines had appeared on her hands and around her eyes. Mainers' idea of skin care was wearing a Red Sox cap if you were going to be on the water all day, and slathering on Wool Wax Creme in winter, a potion fishermen used to keep their hands from cracking in frigid salt water. Worked pretty well on dry land, too. And the only hand cream you could pick up at the same place you bought your flounder fillets or haddock pieces for chowder.
I hadn't thought about Wool Wax Creme in years.
Arizona women had permanently tanned skin, bought expensive moisturizers by the gallon, and compared Botox sources. Wearing sunblock was one of the healthier habits I'd picked up in my years away.
Gram was still talking, but had already put two bowls on the table and started ladling out chowder. "I didn't know exactly when you'd get in, so I cooked up a pot yesterday with extra bacon and a touch of sherry, just the way you like it. Figured it'd be easy to heat up when you got here."
"And better the second day," we chorused together.
The yellow cat had smelled the fish. She meowed and rubbed against Gram's ankles.
"I see you have a new friend," I said. "Scared me half out of my wits when I came in. She's a beauty. I haven't seen a Maine coon cat in years."
"Her name's Juno, because she demands that I wait on her like she was a goddess. You should have seen her when she first got here. A scrawny stray trying to keep warm in the barn." Juno meowed loudly. "All right, all right. I'll stop my talking and give you some fish."
Gram spooned a piece into a bowl on the floor, which was clearly Juno's. The fish was gone before Gram'd sat down again.
"Mmm. I've missed your chowder," I said, lowering my spoon into the bowl that was swirling with melted butter, mixed with just enough cream and broth and seasonings to turn potatoes and haddock and bacon into a feast. "And lobsters—remember when I said I never wanted to smell another lobster after steaming thousands every summer? Well, I've missed those, too. And some days I'd die for a decent fried clam. Fresh, lightly battered ..." I took a spoonful of chowder and almost inhaled it. "Fantastic. Nobody makes chowder like yours."
Gram sat with a smaller bowl and smiled, relishing my enjoyment. "It's starting with lobster broth that makes the difference." She tasted a spoonful herself, and then passed me the bowl of oyster crackers. "Lord knows, I've missed you, Angel. It's been a quiet house all these years with you gone."
"I saw the sign outside and the living room. You haven't been sitting around mourning my absence. We need to get caught up. But, first, tell me about Mama."
"I figured you'd want all the details, and might as well hear them from the expert. State's reopening her case. So, after you finish your chowder, you call the trooper in charge of the investigation. He'll tell you what's happening. He wants to ask you a few questions, anyway."
I nodded. "Fine. I want to do that as soon as possible."
"Thought you would." Gram slid a business card across the table. "He knows you'll be calling. His office is up near Augusta, but he'll be in Haven Harbor today and tomorrow because of the memorial service."
"That's when the service is? Tomorrow?" Gram had sure been confident I'd come home right away.
"Late tomorrow morning. It's been a lot of years, but some folks still remember her. And when she was found, it was all over the papers and on the TV. A few will come because of that."
I shuddered. "Curiosity seekers. The service should have been private. After all these years ..."
"The police wanted an open service. Said it might encourage someone who'd have information to come forward. You ask the trooper. He'll explain."
I reached over and read the card. Twice. "Is this ... the same Ethan Trask who used to live here in the Harbor?"
"Same fellow. I wondered if you'd remember him. He was a few years older than you, as I recall."
Four years, three months, and six days. Ethan Trask. Quite possibly the most gorgeous boy to ever walk the halls of Haven Harbor High. The year I was twelve I'd followed him around like a sick puppy until he and his friends noticed the awkward kid always finding an excuse to walk past his house or browse at his father's hardware store when he was working a shift there. Thinking back, they could have been meaner—boys my own age treated me like dirt, or lower, because of Mama—but Ethan's laughter was the first that hurt. It sent me into hiding until he and his pals left town for wider horizons. And I grew up, and a couple of years later learned more direct ways to get boys' attention.
"I remember him."
"Well, he's turned out all right. He's a detective with the Maine State Troopers, and in charge of your mama's case. Lives over to Hallowell now, he said."
Maybe he wouldn't remember me.
"You can reach him at his cell phone number. He told me to tell you that. And if you want to talk with Lauren, her number's on the wall by the phone."
"You remember Lauren? She was in your class in school, or one grade ahead? Lauren Greene she was then. She married Caleb Decker, so she's Lauren Decker now, and she waitresses over to the Harbor Haunts Café."
"Why would I want to see her? We were friends for a while in third and fourth grade, but not after that." Everything had changed after Mama left. Including who wanted to be my friend.
"Well, Lauren's been working with me, so I've gotten closer to her recently. Maybe I've forgotten what it was like when you were both girls. You took after your mama. You never talked much about your friends. But the reason I thought you might want to talk with her is, Lauren's the one found your mama's body."CHAPTER 3
Women were major founders of the American abolitionist movement. One way they raised money was through antislavery fairs where they sold pen wipers embroidered with "wipe out the blot of slavery," needlework bags embroidered with a black man being lashed, and linens with the motto, "May the points of our needles prick the slaveholders' consciences."
Gram was right. Ethan Trask had sure turned out fine.
He was taller, broader, and even better-looking than I remembered him, and his pressed state trooper's uniform didn't hurt the image any. Despite our shared history and the current circumstances, I was sorely tempted to flirt a little. After all, Mama'd been gone nineteen years. I wasn't exactly in mourning. Unfortunately for me, the wide gold band on the third finger of Ethan's left hand was as clear as a stop sign. I'd promised myself I'd show Haven Harbor a new, mature Angela Curtis. Prove to them, and to me, I wasn't the same girl I'd been. I played it straight with Ethan.
"Sorry to bother you on your first day back, Angie. Is it all right if I call you 'Angie'?"
I nodded, probably looking as dumb as I felt. He'd smiled and I'd reverted to my seventh-grade self.
Excerpted from Twisted Threads by Lea Wait. Copyright © 2015 Lea Wait. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.