Maggie Messina, beloved owner of the Black Sheep Knitting Shop, is thrilled to be hosting a workshop for one of her former students, now a celebrity in the knitting world. But the celebration is upstaged when Amanda Goran, the owner of the rival Knitting Nest, is found dead in her shop on the other side of town.
Maggie had reasons to dislike Amanda, a thorn in her side ever since Maggie's shop surpassed Amanda's in popularity. Then again, it wasn't hard to dislike Amanda—the contentious woman, whose marriage was on the rocks, seemed to specialize in causing misery all over town. But the pointed evidence has a detective casting a suspicious eye on Maggie. She may be a whiz at knitting, but can she keep the police from needling her before her shop, her reputation, and her circle of friends become unraveled?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Maggie, you've got to be kidding...do you want to kill me?" Lucy Binger tried to stare down her best friend, but it was no use.
Maggie Messina had already settled in to her furniture moving stance -- knees bent, jaw set, a determined grip on the far end of an antique love seat.
"Come on, Lucy. You can do this." When that coaxing tone failed, she said, "It's the absolute last time, I promise."
Lucy shot her a dark look, then finally took hold of her end and hoisted the couch up. Taking the high road, she thought, by not harping on the fact that they'd moved this particular piece of furniture around the shop three times, each trip reportedly the last.
"I owe you one," Maggie said.
"You owe me a few," Lucy replied with a grunt.
"Absolutely...watch the molding, please?"
Maggie swung her end through the doorway while Lucy hung on to the other side for dear life.
Lucy was trying hard not to destroy the decor, but angling the couch around the coral-colored walls, tall armoires, and baskets brimming with yarn was no mean feat.
Maggie's knitting shop, the Black Sheep, covered the first floor of a meticulously restored Victorian, the kind real-estate brokers might call "a jewel box." Lucy knew that was just a clever way of saying the rooms were small and tight, designed for diminutive, nineteenth-century folk, but these days more suited to retail space.
Finally, they reached the corner Maggie had staked out as the sofa's latest landing strip. Or close enough, Lucy decided. She dropped her end, then collapsed on the cushions, her long legs dangling over one side.
"Okay, furniture is set. How about the fireworks?" Lucy turned her head and caught Maggie's eye. "Don't you need a permit for that?"
"All right. I did get a little carried away. But Cara's practically famous. It's a big deal for me, having her here. I'm expecting a full house. Did I tell you?"
Lucy smiled and nodded. Maggie had told her. A few times.
"So Cara was a student of yours, right?" Lucy folded one arm under her head. "When was that again?"
"Almost ten years ago." Maggie sat on an armchair near the love seat and rubbed the back of her neck. "She went to college in New York after high school, the Fashion Institute of Technology."
"Did she stay in touch?"
"Oh, a little. When her first book came out, I sent her a note and she wrote back. She'd returned to Boston by then and was writing for Knitting Now! Cara comes back to town fairly often to see her family. She stopped in to say hello one day and mentioned she was working on a new book about felting. So I asked if she'd give a talk here and she agreed. Pretty good for me," Maggie added. "Her publisher is sending her out to five or six cities. Bookshops and the big arts and crafts chain stores."
"That is a coup. You must have been one of her favorite teachers."
"Maybe." Maggie's tone was modest, but Lucy knew she'd been very popular with students. Maggie not only looked half her age, but had the kind of energy and outlook that would always make her seem young.
Maggie had left teaching four years ago, after her husband, Bill, had died. She'd always talked about opening a knitting shop some far-off day, perhaps when she retired. But at that low point in her life, she needed a new plan to pull her through and didn't see any reason to put off her heart's desire.
"Cara was one of those kids who hung out in the art room. You know the type. I encouraged her, I guess. I had a feeling she'd do something with herself in the real world."
Lucy wasn't sure if the wondrous world of knitting had that much overlap with the real world. But she knew what Maggie meant and Cara Newhouse was clearly a bona fide success in both realms.
Felting Fever, the book Cara would sign tomorrow, was her second in less than two years. Her first, Ready, Set, Knit!, had turned out to be one of the bestselling titles for novice knitters ever. All before Cara had even hit thirty.
Slouching toward thirty-three, with no national book tours penciled into her datebook, Lucy knew she was a little jealous.
"I'm not sure if I'm allowed to say, but Cara might have her own TV show soon." Maggie picked up a fringed couch pillow that had slipped overboard and slapped it back into shape. "Some producer type is coming tomorrow to tape her demonstration. It's just a screen test. It won't actually be on TV," Maggie clarified. "But the Plum Harbor Times is sending a reporter. We could make the front page."
"I bet you will," Lucy agreed. Cara's appearance would be good publicity for the shop. It didn't take much to appear above the fold in the Plum Harbor Times. The pages of the local paper were filled with blurry photos and fluffy articles about student groups, Scout troops, and Rotary Club members honored for canned food drives and other good deeds. Town trustees debated passionately about traffic lights, trapping raccoons, or keeping skateboarders off Main Street.
The truth was, truly bad things rarely happened in Plum Harbor. It was just that kind of place. When Lucy and her sister Ellen visited their aunt Laura in the summers all through childhood, Lucy had accepted that fact without question. Now that she was an adult and living here full-time -- at least, trying it out for a while -- the happily out-of-synch atmosphere still amazed her. While other people in other places were striving to be on the cutting edge of trends and fashion, Dare to Be Dull could easily be Plum Harbor's village motto.
Lucy had never found living in Boston particularly difficult, except the year her marriage to Eric underwent a meltdown -- and that could have happened anywhere. Boston was only about an hour and a half away, sometimes two with traffic, but it might as well have been another galaxy. Some hardy souls made the daily commute, but too few to consider the area a bona fide suburb. And it wasn't a summer destination any longer, either. It was something in between, what people called an ex-burb, which was why Lucy liked it.
"Anything left on your list?" Lucy really didn't want to move a muscle, but felt obliged to ask.
"I think we're finished, thanks."
Maggie rose and headed for a table that held stacks of Cara's new book. She began to unpack more copies from the brown cartons on the floor, now hidden by a long tablecloth.
Maggie was almost ten years older, but Lucy sometimes found her friend's energy level downright annoying. Lucy teased her about slugging down Red Bull on the sly, but they both knew Maggie was too much of a health food freak for that lapse. Maggie was obviously part border collie, restless and cranky unless she had a productive job to do.
Maggie hummed while arranging the books on the table. Lucy glanced at her watch, then closed her eyes. It was almost seven. She couldn't believe it. She'd dropped by the shop around three, just to see how things were going, and had found Maggie totally overwhelmed. Lucy had rarely seen her in a true panic about anything, but that afternoon, her dear pal had been about to unravel. Lucy didn't have the heart to desert her.
That was the trouble with working at home and being your own boss, Lucy had noticed. She was too easily distracted. There was always some excuse to avoid her freelance assignments. Even housework distracted her, and that was saying something.
Some days, she practically tied herself to her desk chair, then ended up roaming the Internet instead of working. Answering eÂ€‘mails, checking her horoscope or pseudo-news items. "Stars Without Makeup" was always amusing, and, on a certain level, a deep comfort.
Of course, she had to check out her favorite knitting bloggers, like the Yarn Harlot. Then there was always knitting itself, the perfect distraction from work because you were doing something productive.
Lucy was still a neophyte knitter, but she was definitely hooked. Polishing off a few rows when she got stuck in some graphic design dilemma cleared her head and settled her mood. As for hanging out at the Black Sheep, the shop was her home away from home. Once inside the door of the cozy knitters' haven, it was easy to lose track of time.
Phoebe Meyer, a college student who worked part-time for Maggie and lived in the apartment above the shop, had conveniently escaped the set-up marathon at about four. Phoebe had classes on Thursday afternoon, but would be back soon. The others would be here any minute, too.
It was almost time for their group's weekly knitting night.
They'd all told Maggie they should skip tonight's meeting as she had enough to do. But Maggie insisted. Since the group had formed over a year ago, they'd rarely missed, traveling from house to house, holding it here at the shop.
Tonight was Maggie's turn and Lucy had a feeling Maggie would be better off with the distracting, relaxing presence of her knitting friends than hanging out there alone, fussing over the book display and cookie trays.
The knitting group had first met right here, in the Black Sheep, at one of Maggie's beginner classes last summer. There had simply been good chemistry and a true connection between them -- five women at different stages in life, with different occupations but similar interests. And they were united by a common desire to master enticing strands of yarn and unwieldily sets of needles.
By the time Maggie's course was over, they knew a knit stitch from a purl, how to read a pattern, and repair a yarn over. They had also come to know one another, stitch by stitch, creating an intricate, unique pattern of friendship. Ending their knitting nights together seemed unthinkable. It seemed like just the beginning.
Lucy thought of the knitting club as a night out with gal pals...without the pomegranate martinis. They were known to share a good bottle of chardonnay or pinot noir from time to time, though, along with something tasty to eat.
Mini-quiche and green salad were on the menu tonight, a preview of the finger food Maggie would serve tomorrow. Maggie had popped a cookie sheet into the oven a short time ago and the warm buttery smell made Lucy's stomach growl, though she was too tired to get up and sneak a taste test.
The shop door opened and Dana Haeger strolled in. She took two steps and stared around. A row of chairs blocked her path.
"Maggie, what have you done to this place?"
"You mean you like it, right?" Maggie glanced at Dana briefly, then turned back to the book display.
"Absolutely. It looks great." Dana wove a path through the chairs in the other direction, and smiled down at Lucy. "Have you been here all afternoon schlepping folding chairs?"
"Just about," Lucy admitted. She sat up and rubbed the small of her back.
"What a pal you are."
"I'm not sure 'pal' is the word I'd use at the moment," Lucy replied.
Dana smiled, and slipped off her coat. She dropped it on the love seat, along with a duffel-shaped tote with long leather handles she used as her knitting bag. "Something smells yummy. Did you guys cook, too?"
"Mini-quiche, from Value Barn," Lucy replied. "Maggie bought half a ton for tomorrow. She had a few dozen to spare."
"Sounds good to me. I'll make some coffee."
Dana headed for the storeroom, which had once been a kitchen and still had all the basic equipment. Lucy followed and watched as she set up the coffeemaker.
As usual, Dana looked smart and professional in a brown tweed suit and cashmere sweater. A psychologist with a busy practice, she had an office a few blocks down Main Street. She also had hours on staff at a local hospital clinic. She often stopped in at the knitting shop during the day, counting the breaks as her own special therapy.
Dana hit the start button on the coffeemaker. "I'd like to write a book one of these days. One of those self-help, how-to's with a snappy title? Three Secrets to Happiness, Wealth, Love, and Great Sex...All the Time...Or Your Money Back."
"I think that's four secrets," Lucy noted. "But I would definitely read it. Wait a second...maybe I have read it?"
"Yeah, so did I." Dana smiled at her.
The coffee had dripped into the pot, the scent energizing. Dana poured out two mugs and handed one to Lucy.
They both turned at the sound of Suzanne Cavanaugh's voice, greeting Maggie with a shriek. "What happened to this place? Where's our table?"
Lucy emerged from the storeroom just in time to see their fellow knitter, Suzanne, spin in a confused circle, searching for their usual meeting place.
"We moved the table up front for the refreshments," Maggie explained. Along with the quiche, Maggie would be serving muffins and cookies, coffee, and tea. She went the distance, Lucy had to hand it to her.
"Why don't we just sit up here? There's room for everyone." Dana led the way back to the front parlor and the love seat. "Just grab a few more chairs and make a circle."
Maggie checked the time. "I guess we'd better start without Phoebe." Maggie toted a chair over and unfolded it. "She's probably stuck at school. That European history class."
Maggie had barely finished the thought when the shop door swung open.
But it was not Phoebe. Not even close.
Lucy heard Maggie's quiet, sharp breath as a short, dark-eyed woman stepped into view. She pushed back the hood of a voluminous Aryan knit wrap, its workmanship and detail impressive, even at a distance.
It was Amanda Goran. For a moment, Lucy didn't recognize her. She looked so different. Then she spoke and her voice -- thin, nasal, totally irritating -- dispelled any doubt.
"Hello, Maggie. I saw the lights on and the door was open.... Are you giving a class tonight?"
"I didn't think so. Not with the big event tomorrow. Wow, look at this place. You must expect a real crowd."
Maggie forced a small smile. "It's a hot ticket."
Lucy could sense Maggie's discomfort. Or maybe it was just curiosity about this unexpected honor.
Amanda rarely set foot in the Black Sheep and never wearing such a cheerful expression. Well, it was as close as Amanda ever got to cheerful. She probably had more enemies than friends in Plum Harbor, but she considered Maggie her number one archrival. For a long time Amanda's shop, the Knitting Nest, had been the only choice for local knitters, until the Black Sheep hopped onto Main Street.
Amanda had resented the quick success of Maggie's store, which had easily eclipsed her own. She'd always taken it personally. Maggie usually laughed off the feud as all in Amanda's head, though her contentious rival had managed to get under Maggie's skin more than once in the past few years. Still, Maggie tried hard to rise above Amanda's pettiness and ignore her.
"Can I help you with something?" Maggie started to rise from her chair.
"Don't get up." Amanda waved at her. "I just wanted to say hello." Amanda took a few more steps inside and fingered a skein of yarn that sat in a basket on a side table. Then she read the label and nodded. "Organic. Nice.... Wow, look at that price. Are you trying to put me out of business, Maggie?"
The accusation was delivered with a small surprised laugh. Maggie managed another tight smile. "A new supplier. She's giving good discounts to build her business. Would you like her card?"
"That's okay. I'm not getting involved with any new labels right now. I'm trying to take a step back from the Nest."
"Really?" Maggie didn't bother to hide her surprise. Lucy was surprised, too. Amanda was devoted to her shop. Obsessed with it, Lucy would say.
"I'm looking for a manager," she added. "If you think of anyone, let me know."
"Yes, I will," Maggie promised.
Amanda plucked a ball of yarn from another basket and slipped on her reading glasses for a closer inspection. Maggie glanced at her friends. Everyone had pulled out their projects and had busily set to work, but of course, they still soaked up every word of the exchange.
Taking a step back from the knitting wars? Lucy wondered. What had enticed Amanda to suddenly retreat from battle? Whatever it was, it seemed to agree with her.
Amanda rewound the wool and carefully set the ball back in the basket. "You really have some nice stock in here Maggie. And so well displayed."
Had Amanda actually given Maggie a compliment? Lucy saw Maggie's eyes widen. She was speechless.
Amanda slipped her wrap around her arms and turned to go. "Looks like I'd better get here early tomorrow for a good seat."
"Yes, you really should," Maggie replied, finding her voice again. "Cara will start at eleven, but we'll be open at nine."
"I'll come when you open, then." She flashed a grin, displaying dazzling white teeth. "See you, ladies."
The others looked up from their work and nodded good-bye as Amanda swished through the doorway.
Maggie raised her hand and waved. "Good night, Amanda. See you -- "
The door snapped closed and they sat in absolute silence.
Lucy imagined Amanda lingering on the porch, about to pop back in for a sneak attack. She slowly looked around at her friends. "Did that really happen?" Her gaze came to rest on Maggie. "Is she really coming here tomorrow?"
"I'd worry about that, if I were you." Suzanne's clicking needles echoed her concern. "You know Amanda. What if she makes a scene? What if she's coming just to screw things up?"
Suzanne was their official Fretting Queen. But this time, Lucy thought Suzanne had a point.
"I thought about that, too, when she called to sign up," Maggie admitted. "But I had plenty of room left and I didn't feel right being rude to her. Maybe she won't even come." Maggie touched her forehead with her hand. "I can't remember the last time she stopped in here like that. Or maybe I just blocked it out of my memory?"
Dana finished a row and turned her work to the other side. She was making a long, belted cardigan with a shawl collar using taupe-colored wool with a touch of angora. Lucy thought it was going to look fabulous on her.
"I'm sure any visit from Amanda is always fraught with drama," Dana said. "Funny how she'd seemed so conciliatory tonight. And she looked terrific."
"Didn't she? I almost didn't recognize her," Lucy admitted. "Even her teeth were sort of...glowing."
"Looked like veneers to me," Suzanne agreed. "You can't get there with the home strips."
"Her hair looked really good, too," Lucy noted. "I wonder where she had it done."
Amanda had changed her dowdy Dutch boy style for a ragged razor cut and a brighter color. Her plain features were enhanced by serious makeup, Lucy had noticed. Eyes, lips, foundation -- the works. It didn't look like drugstore stuff, either. Definitely department store quality.
"A new and improved Amanda," Maggie summed up. "Her personality included. I think she actually gave me a compliment."
"Could you believe it? What was that about?" Suzanne shook her head.
Dana set her knitting down and checked the pattern. "I've always thought she was a perfect candidate for antidepressants. Argumentative. Paranoid. Maybe she started taking some medication. There are some terrific new drugs out there now."
Dana was rarely at a loss for a diagnosis, but in this case, Lucy thought it was a smart call. Amanda did seem transformed from the inside out.
"She lost some weight, too. But everybody loses weight when their marriage breaks up." Suzanne sounded very knowledgeable for someone who had married her high school boyfriend and seemed to be living happily ever after, juggling her part-time job in real estate with the 24/7 job of running a home and raising three children.
Lucy had some personal experience with the divorce diet. She'd dropped twenty pounds during her breakup with Eric, and, just like Amanda, had splurged for the requisite overpriced haircut. By now, she had gained about half the weight back and her long wavy hair had returned to its former dirty blonde color and unruly style.
"Amanda and Peter are not divorced yet. They're not even legally separated," Dana clarified. "They're living apart, but I don't think they've signed anything. Jack knows the attorney who's representing Peter, and I hear Amanda is tough as nails negotiating."
"Why am I not surprised?" Maggie murmured.
Dana's husband, Jack, had had a full career as a county detective before returning to school for a law degree and now practiced in town. Between the two of them, Dana and Jack were privy to the inside story on many residents of Plum Harbor. Not that she lacked in discretion or professional ethics in any way, Lucy thought, Dana didn't mind adding a few insider footnotes to stories that were common knowledge.
"She'll never find a guy like Peter, willing to put up with all her quirks, that's for sure." Suzanne rolled her eyes. "Why did they split up in the first place?"
Dana took a snip of black yarn and tied a marker at the end of her row. She shrugged. "Who knows? I did hear that one day she just cleared all the furniture and the handcrafted things he makes and dumped it all in a pile on the sidewalk. Before Peter could get over there, half of it was gone."
Lucy had not been in the Knitting Nest for ages, but she did recall Peter's wares took up a good portion of the space.
"He's a good craftsman. His pieces have simple lines but are very artistic," Maggie said sympathetically. "Knowing Amanda, anything could have set her off."
Dana pursed her lips, concentrating on her stitches. Lucy sensed she knew more about the Gorans' marriage than she would say. Dana glanced up at her friends, then down at her needles.
"What did she do with all the empty space in the shop?" Lucy asked.
"Moved in a huge spinning wheel...and a big display of her dog sweaters." Maggie's gaze remained on her knitting but Lucy saw her laugh. Maggie acted as if she didn't give a thought to the Knitting Nest, but somehow she managed to keep up with any changes there, Lucy noticed.
"Kicking Peter out of the shop does make more room for the dogs. How convenient," Suzanne said. She'd been fishing through her big tapestry knitting bag for something and finally came up with a crumpled copy of her pattern.
Suzanne was a fast but impatient knitter and she hated to follow a pattern. Everybody teased her about it. Or maybe she was just multitasking so much, she didn't have time to check instructions. On any given night, poor Suzanne ended up frogging half her work, ripping out half as many rows as she'd finished. She was making a chulo hat for her thirteen-year-old daughter, Alexis, but had never worked with three colors before.
"Andrea and Peter never had children. The dogs obviously take up the emotional slack. Transference," Dana offered.
There seemed to be plenty of that. Amanda was as devoted as any mother to her furry darlings. Lucy wasn't quite sure how many she had now. A pack of mixed-breed hounds she'd adopted from shelters and rescue groups. That was another reason customers avoided the Knitting Nest. Amanda always kept two or three of her canine crew in the shop with her and some people were uncomfortable around dogs, or simply didn't like dealing with all the cold, wet noses and the pet hair getting into their projects.
"Maggie...can you fix this...please? This snowflake is turning into a spider." Maggie stuck her hand out and Suzanne handed over her project. White, blue, and pink bobbins of yarn dangled from the piece.
Maggie examined Suzanne's knitting, then picked up a few stitches to get her back on track.
"I, for one, am all in favor of a kinder and gentler Amanda Goran. I think it's very hard for a person to change. I give her a lot of credit. Whatever the reason behind the transformation, I wish her well," Maggie said as she handed Suzanne back her knitting.
The front door of the shop swung open. They held their breath and looked up to see who was coming in this time.
She clomped in, big black boots scraping the wooden floor. Her cheeks were ruddy from the cold, her dark eyes bright. A fuzzy, multicolored scarf of her own creation looped around her neck, dangling down the front of her black peacoat. A streak of magenta in the scarf matched the one dyed in her dark hair.
She swung her book bag off her shoulder and smiled.
"Hi, guys. Sorry I'm late...did I miss anything?"
Lucy got home around ten. She felt tired but needed to make up lost time on her current work project -- designing a set of pamphlets explaining employee health insurance benefits. She knew she'd be out again most of the day tomorrow and didn't have that much breathing room on the deadline.
The assignment seemed boring and endless, though she'd only been working on it a week. But it was paying the rent, Lucy kept reminding herself.
She kept at it until half past one, then decided to quit for the night. Before shutting down the computer, she quickly checked her eÂ€‘mail. A message from her sister Ellen reminding Lucy she was expected at a dinner party at Ellen's house in Concord this coming Saturday night. Lucy had forgotten all about it...conveniently. The mere thought of sitting through one of Ellen and Scott's get-togethers made her want to run to her bed and put a pillow over her head.
Ellen had been sympathetic enough during Lucy's divorce, but now acted as if it had been an unfortunate but fairly common ailment, like whiplash or a compressed disc. Lucy could not expect to recover and return to a normal life if she didn't bare down and commit to "the therapy." If Lucy was still not "moving on" with her life at this point, to Ellen's way of thinking, well...maybe she was just plain lazy.
Secretly, Lucy had to agree at least a little with this diagnosis, though she wasn't sure what she could do about it. Especially when "the therapy" took the form of one of Ellen's get-togethers, where Lucy knew she would be surrounded by happy -- or presumably happy -- suburban couples. With the exception of one unattached, presumably straight man that Ellen always invited as the latest candidate.
Ellen's well-intentioned matchups were, without exception, disastrous. Lucy sometimes went through the motions just to avoid hurting Ellen's feelings...or avoid her nagging. This time, however, she typed a quick note, claiming she had a bad deadline and could not possibly come to Concord...as much as she wanted to.
There was also a message from her mother, who was down in Nicaragua, building houses and latrines in a poverty-stricken village. Her mother's idea of a great tropical vacation, bless her heart. Isabel Binger taught political science at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, but was on a sabbatical this year.
Lucy and Ellen had been raised near Amherst, in the town of Northampton. Their parents had divorced when Lucy was in college. Her father, Harry Binger, had retired from his law practice and immediately moved down to Myrtle Beach. He'd always hated the cold winters in the northeast and its brief golfing season. Lucy had visited him once at his condo community. She found the place a lot like the Jersey shore but with palm trees and miles of real golf courses, instead of miniature ones -- though there were a lot of those, too.
Her father had married a woman named Sheila who shared his values and priorities -- well-maintained greens, dry martinis, and watching a lively panel of celebrity guests on Larry King Live.
While it was easy to say Ellen had taken after their father and Lucy was clearly her mother's child, Lucy knew that it was never so simple as that.
There were a few other messages from work associates and friends in the city. Many couldn't believe that she was still living out here. At first, neither could Lucy.
During her summers growing up, Lucy's parents more or less dumped her and Ellen with their aunt Laura, who was a schoolteacher with summers off, for weeks at a stretch, as if Laura's home were some convenient free summer camp. But Aunt Laura looked forward to it, being unmarried and without kids of her own. Once the girls were in high school and college, summer jobs and their social lives reduced their visits to Plum Harbor down to a weekend or two. Then when she got busy with her career and marriage, Lucy had not come up very often at all.
Aunt Laura seemed to understand. She was not the whining or judgmental type. When Laura died last spring, the cottage that had always been her home was left to Lucy and Ellen.
Lucy had just left her office job and set up her own business so she decided to take a long summer in Plum Harbor. It seemed a good place to clear her head and regroup after so many life-altering changes in such a short time.
Ellen was happy to have Lucy stay in the house, instead of renting it out to strangers. Lucy's older sister, who was married with two girls, came out for a weekend only once with her family.
Plum Harbor wasn't really Ellen's speed anymore. She was more of a Nantucket or Martha's Vineyard type now. Lucy basically had the place to herself. Ellen hadn't even wanted any of the furniture, with the exception of a small, tiger oak secretary and a mohogany ballroom chair. They were the only pieces of any value, of course. But Lucy knew she was still getting the better of the bargain.
Lucy's own belongings, her half of the furniture she'd shared with her exÂ€‘husband, made a curious mix with Aunt Laura's home decor -- early American meets early IKEA. Lucy was still trying to sort it all out.
The village did get somewhat desolate in the winter, as Maggie had warned. It was especially so after the holidays, when it was like watching an ant hill, Lucy decided. At first there doesn't seem to be any activity, but if you keep staring, you'll eventually see a steady stream of coming and going, a flow of quiet, methodical industry. The empty beach and open spaces had a strange, subtle beauty this time of year, making their summer glory seem obvious and ordinary.
Looking back now, she wasn't sure if she would have stayed if it hadn't been for Maggie. She had wandered into the Black Sheep one day, purely by chance and didn't even know how to hold knitting needles. But one thing led to another and it was impossible now to trace back to the moment when she and the sisterhood of traveling knitting totes had become true friends, or the moment Lucy realized she was totally hooked on knitting -- something she at times considered a mixed blessing.
Early the next morning Lucy dressed quickly, leaving the house with her hair wet and altogether skipping makeup. She'd definitely duck any photographers from the Plum Harbor Times. She had promised Maggie she'd come to the shop by nine to help with any last-minute details.
By the time she parked in front of the Black Sheep, the dashboard clock read 8:55. Lucy was surprised to find the shop dark, still closed up tight, and Maggie's car nowhere in sight. She walked up on the porch and peered into the bay window. Maggie was definitely not in there. Neither was Phoebe.
She waited a moment, thinking she might walk up the street and pick up some coffee. But before she could decide, Maggie's dark green Subaru pulled up and Maggie jumped out, white plastic shopping bags dangling from each hand and a bouquet of flowers tucked under her arm.
"Oh, good, you're here. Could you grab this stuff while I open the door?"
Maggie handed over a bag, then unlocked the front door.
"After I picked up my order at the bakery, I realized I wasn't serving anything healthy. So I ran over to the supermarket for some fruit. Berries. Nice ones. You'd never expect it this time of year."
"Good idea." Lucy nodded. Knowing Maggie, there would be more than enough food, with or without berries. But Maggie did want the event to be perfect.
While Maggie carried the shopping bags inside, Lucy went back to Maggie's car, where she found several white cardboard boxes from the bakery in the trunk. She carried them inside and walked back to the storeroom.
Maggie was working near the sink, arranging flowers in a tall vase. She glanced at Lucy over her shoulder. "Could you take these outside, please? I think the counter near the register would be a good spot."
The vase was slippery and Lucy carried it carefully. She had just set it down in its assigned spot when the shop door swung open. A tall, thin blonde stood in the doorway. She paused and looked around, then stepped inside. Her long, swishy shearling coat was the real thing, Lucy noticed, not a faux version from L.L. Bean. Under that, Lucy caught a glimpse of an attractive three-quarter-length sweater made of multicolored yarn.
The young woman had barely shut the door behind her when Maggie seemed to fly through the air, appearing out of nowhere.
"Cara! So good to see you." The women shared a quick hug and Maggie stepped back. Cara Newhouse smiled down at her former teacher.
"Good to see you, too, Maggie.... Wow. Look at this place. The flowers. Everything. You shouldn't have gone to so much trouble."
Maggie shook her head, but looked pleased. "I wanted to do something special now that you're so well known."
Cara seemed embarrassed by the praise. "Don't be silly. I'm no celebrity."
"You are in the knitting world. Which counts for a lot around here." Maggie turned to Lucy and waved her over. "I want you to meet my good friend, Lucy Binger."
Lucy stretched out her hand as Maggie introduced them. "Nice to meet you, Cara."
"Thanks. Nice to meet you, too." Cara nodded and smiled.
"We put a table for the demonstration back there." Maggie pointed to the far side of the shop's main room. "We thought that would be the easiest place for everyone to see. But we did leave an aisle, so you can walk around as you talk," Maggie explained.
"I can walk around. I can work at the table, I'll do whatever you'd like," Cara said agreeably.
"How about the TV people? Where do you think they'll put the camera?"
"Oh, they're not coming. They called this morning and canceled."
Cara shrugged as she took off her long coat. "I don't mind. I'm really not ready. This will be good practice. I'm going to audition at the studio next week."
Maggie looked disappointed for a moment, then quickly recovered. "Just as well. A camera crew in here today would have made it even crazier."
Phoebe had come down from her apartment, Lucy noticed. She poked her head out of the storeroom and waved at Maggie. "I need another basket for the muffins. Are there any more back here?"
"Looks like I'm needed," Maggie said. "I'll be right back..."
Cara started toward the table and Lucy offered to help with the large tote bags she was carrying. Cara handed one over. It was filled with all kinds of things: knitting tools, yarn, measuring sticks.
"I feel like Mary Poppins when I start pulling all this stuff out of my bags."
Cute, Lucy thought, though she'd be hard-pressed to figure out anything else Cara had in common with the original Nanny 911. Cara looked every inch the knitting world diva and soon-to-be TV host. She was a perfect TTB -- Lucy's exÂ€‘husband's acronym for tall thin blonde. She had the type of figure that looked good in long, draping sweaters and shawls, and...okay, a body that would look great draped in almost anything. Or nothing.
Lucy studied Cara's three-quarter-length sweater coat, knitted in a tweedy, medium-weight wool. The coat was embellished with fringe on the cuffs and hem, and wonderful felted flowers that covered snap fasteners. Her black top, black pants, and boots set off the piece perfectly.
"Nice jacket," Lucy complimented her.
"Thanks, the design is in my book. I'm going to talk about it and show everyone how to make the flowers," she promised with another toothpaste-ad smile. "I can make the stuff just fine, but I can get a little confused if I have to stop and explain how I do it," she admitted with a laugh. "So please ask a lot of questions."
"Okay, I'll remember that," Lucy promised.
Cara was different than Lucy had expected. More down to earth. Modest even. Not nearly the prima donna she could be. Maybe it was just Maggie's description of Cara's success that had given that impression. A
s for Cara's concerns about her show-and-tell skills, Lucy didn't think Cara needed to sweat it. Just look at her. What producer would care if she didn't know a knitting needle from a chopstick?
Just as Cara finished setting up, the audience began to arrive. Phoebe handed out programs. Lucy noticed Dana come in. She waved, but was too far away to make her way over. Suzanne was late, as usual. Lucy hoped she could save a good seat.
Where was Amanda Goran? Amanda had definitely not been one of the early birds, as she'd promised last night. Lucy would have noticed that entrance. Had Amanda slipped in under the radar somehow? Lucy looked around but didn't see Maggie's notorious rival in the rows of guests already seated.
Amanda's absence suddenly made Lucy worry. She wondered if Maggie had noticed, too. Was Amanda planning to make some scene that would undermine the event? Or had she just chickened out? No matter what she'd said last night, from Amanda's point of view, coming here this morning was a sign of submission. Even defeat. For everyone's sake, Lucy hoped Amanda had decided to just stay in her own territory.
The audience was mostly women, with a few men sprinkled in here and there. About fifty guests, Lucy estimated, probably the largest turnout for a Black Sheep event to date. While Plum Harbor was a small village, little more than two square miles around, the Black Sheep did draw customers from all the neighboring towns and Cara was well known in the community.
The reporter from the Plum Harbor Times had arrived. Lucy saw Maggie and Cara pose for a photo in front of the flower arrangement. Cara held up a copy of her book and they both smiled for the camera.
Everything was going perfectly. At precisely eleven, Maggie stepped in front of the group and gently raised her hands for quiet, revealing her past life as a schoolteacher, Lucy thought. The chattering voices stopped.
"Thank you all for coming to the Black Sheep this morning," she began. "We try to present speakers and classes that will enrich and inspire your love of knitting. Today, we have a very special guest, Cara Newhouse. Cara will be talking about her new book, Felting Fever, and giving some great tips on the process."
The audience answered with a smattering of applause.
Maggie continued. "A lot of you have told me you'd love to try this technique, but feel intimidated. Time to let go of your fear of felting, ladies." She smiled widely as she urged Cara forward. "Here she is, consulting editor and writer for Knitting Now! and two other bestselling books. Plum Harbor's own Cara Newhouse..."
Lucy watched Cara stroll front and center. She turned to the audience, her smile growing even wider as the welcoming applause rose.
Cara was just about to speak when the front door flew open.
Suzanne stumbled into the shop. She stared at Phoebe, looking pale and wild eyed, her lipstick smeared. Lucy's heart kicked into overdrive. What in the world happened? Was something wrong with one of Suzanne's kids?
The entire audience grew quiet as all eyes turned toward the doorway.
Suzanne's chin trembled. She glanced around the room. "Didn't you hear what happened to Amanda Goran? She's dead!" Copyright © 2009 by Anne Canadeo