Cross Stitch Before Dying by Amanda Lee

Cross Stitch Before Dying by Amanda Lee

“[A] cozy, promising mystery series…a fast, pleasant read with prose full of pop culture references and, of course, sharp needlework puns.” —Publishers Weekly
    
“[A] fast-paced, intriguing who-done-it that will delight fans of the cozy mystery genre.” —Fresh Fiction

Chapter One

I was maneuvering my red Jeep down Main Street when I saw some sort of commotion up ahead. Angus, my Irish wolfhound, was in the back seat. We were on our way to the Seven-Year Stitch, my embroidery specialty shop, located in the Tallulah Falls town square.

I braked, squinted, and craned my neck; but all I could really see were the cars in front of me and the flashing lights of two police cars and an ambulance.

“Must be a car accident,” I murmured to Angus.

As I debated trying to get out of the traffic so I could turn around and go another route to my shop, someone on the street to my left screamed. I looked in the screamer’s direction just in time to see a man dressed all in black shove past her. He was brandishing a handgun. The gunman hesitated, looked behind him, and then sprinted off again.

I, too, was anxious to see who was chasing him so I trained my gaze at the sidewalk and didn’t watch to see where the man with the gun went. My heart dropped when I saw that the criminal was being pursued by Detective Ted Nash…my Ted. I closed my eyes briefly and said a silent prayer.

What could I do? How could I help? I couldn’t just sit there.

I whipped my head around in time to see the gunman and Ted disappear around the corner. I desperately wanted to do something…anything. But if I distracted Ted and he was harmed because of my actions, I’d never forgive myself. As hard as it was, it was better for me to wait. Wait and pray….

Suddenly, I heard the shots. They sounded no louder than firecrackers being discharged. Bam! Bam! Bam! Then silence.

Angus whimpered, aware that I was falling to pieces. He leaned over and licked tears from my right cheek.

I needed to get out of this traffic…. I had to park somewhere and see about Ted. The crowd had grown on the street, and, in addition to a couple of uniformed police officers, I thought I caught a glimpse of Manu Singh, Chief of Police. I knew he’d help Ted, but that reassurance did nothing to dispel my need to get to Ted and make sure he was all right.

I ignored the blaring of the car horns behind me as I edged out of the traffic and pulled onto a side street. There I parked, cracked the windows for Angus, promised him I’d be right back, locked the Jeep, and ran across the street.

“Let me through!” I shouted as I fought my way through the crowd. “Let me through!”

Someone had the audacity to stop me in my tracks. He was tall and strong, and I glared up at him. When I saw that it was Ted, I melted into his arms and sobbed.

“It’s all right, babe.” He ran his hands over my back tenderly. “It’s all right.”

* * *

I’d assured Ted I was fine once I’d seen that he was okay, and I came on to work. He’d wanted to drive me, but he had more pressing matters to attend to. He needed to go back to the station with Manu and question their suspect. Fortunately, no one had been hurt when the man had fired off his weapon—he was, thankfully, a lousy shot.

Now I tossed the bright yellow tennis ball from my spot on the sofa in the sit-and-stitch square into the merchandise area of the shop. It was a chilly, windy, cloudy day on the Oregon coast, and I hoped our morning of playing fetch would calm my jagged nerves and sufficiently tire Angus out. I wanted him to nap for a while so I could get some work done. I’d received a delivery late yesterday afternoon, and I hadn’t even had time to open the box yet.

At a little over a year old, Angus was still a puppy. He loved to romp and play. He returned and dropped the soggy ball at my feet, and I tossed it again. This time it landed near Jill, and Angus nearly knocked her down as he retrieved it.

“Look out, Jill!” I called. Of course, she couldn’t have moved out of his way anyhow. Jill was a mannequin.

The name of my embroidery shop was the Seven-Year Stitch, and the mannequin resembled Marilyn Monroe, who had starred in the movie The Seven-Year Itch. So all day, day in and day out, Jill stood near the cash register silently greeting patrons to the store. She sometimes modeled some of my embroidery projects. For instance, today she wore a white, button-down oxford shirt with a cluster of crewel embroidery flowers on the left shoulder. Combining the shirt with her jean shorts, she looked fetching as she embraced springtime.

Many of my other embroidery projects adorned the walls—either framed or in embroidery hoops—and I had candlewick embroidered pillows on the sofa. Dolls dressed in clothing I’d embroidered stood on shelves throughout the store. I was not above putting embroidered bandanas around Angus’s neck, but I didn’t do it often since he didn’t particularly go in for fancy accessories.

My cell phone rang. It was Mom. Mom, by the way, was the acclaimed Hollywood costume designer Beverly Singer. She lived in San Francisco…which was also where I’d lived until about nine months ago when I gave up a career in accounting to come to Tallulah Falls and open an embroidery shop. Mom probably thought I’d lost my mind at the time. But if she did, she never said so. She was awfully supportive.

“Hi, Mom,” I said. “What’s up?”

“I just got exciting news,” she said. “Henry Beaumont has asked me to design and oversee costuming for a huge, lavish production about the life of early Bollywood star Sonam Zakaria.”

“Congratulations! That’s terrific. Tell me all about this guy Sonam and why Mr. Beaumont is making a movie about his life.”

“Sonam was a she, darling, and she was larger than life. The only American star I can think of to even remotely compare her to off the top of my head would be Elizabeth Taylor,” Mom said. “Anyway, this job is going to be quite an undertaking. And since the studio has given me an extremely generous budget, I’d like to hire you and a few of your most trusted stitchers to help me out.”

“Are you serious?” I asked.

“Absolutely. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it without you.” She paused. “Wait. That’s not fair. I’m sorry. I’d love for you to help with the costumes, but I understand if you’re too busy. I can—”

“Mom, I want to help,” I interrupted. “And I’m sure Vera will.” Vera Langhorne was a widow in her late fifties to early sixties who was always game for a little adventure.

“What about Reggie?” Mom asked. “She’s so skilled in chikankari that she’d be ideal for this project. Do you think she’d be willing to pitch in? If nothing else, maybe she could give the rest of us a crash course in Indian embroidery.”

“I’ll call her and ask,” I said. “I’ll let you know as soon as I talk with her.”

“Thank you, dear. Give my love to Angus and Ted.”

“About Ted…. He had quite the adventure this morning.” I told her about our earlier excitement.

“Oh, darling, I’m so glad he’s okay! What a terrible ordeal. Are you all right?”

“I’m still a little shaky, but I’m getting over it,” I said.

“With all this going on, are you sure you want to take on a stitching project of this magnitude?” she asked.

“Of course. They caught the guy. Everything is fine now.”

“If you’re sure….”

“I’m sure. I’ll talk with you later. Love you, Mom.”

“Love you more than chocolate,” she said.

We ended the call, and I smiled at Angus. “That was Grandma,” I told him. “She loves us more than chocolate. Yes, she does!”

He woofed, scooped up the tennis ball, and took a run around the shop with it.

Before I could call Rajani Singh, better known as Reggie, Sadie MacKenzie came in and was nearly bowled over by Angus. Sadie had been my best friend since our college days. She and her husband Blake owned MacKenzies’ Mochas, a hip little coffeehouse down the street from the Seven-Year Stitch. In fact, it was Sadie who’d convinced me to move here and open my shop.

“What’s got him so excited?” Sadie asked, as she walked over to join me on the sofa facing away from the window in the sit-and-stitch square.

The square was so named because two navy sofas faced each other with an oval maple coffee table between them. On either end of the coffee table were two red club chairs with matching ottomans. A red and blue braided rug beneath the coffee table pulled everything together and created a cozy square where customers could come sit and stitch.

“We’ve had an exciting morning,” I answered Sadie. “First we saw Ted chasing an armed man on the street, shots were fired, and I nearly had a breakdown. Then Mom called.”

“I heard about the robbery and the chase afterward. Was anyone hurt?”

“No.”

“That’s good. What’s your mom up to?”

“She’s signed on for a huge, lavish production—her words, not mine—about some Bollywood starlet. Mom has asked me and some of Tallulah Falls’ finest needle crafters to help with embroidering the costumes.”

“Have fun with that.” Sadie was so not a stitcher.

“I should take you to San Fran to the movie set one day to be an extra,” I said.

“My skin might be darker than yours, but I don’t look Indian.”

“With a scarf and veil, you might.”

“With a scarf and veil, you might,” she said.

“Not me. I’m way too pale. I read something cute the other day on some blog forum.” I grinned as I quoted, “We Oregonians don’t tan; we rust.”

She smiled. “That is cute. Oh, hey, Todd took Audrey Dayton out to dinner last night.” She carefully watched to gauge my reaction. “I haven’t heard from him this morning—he didn’t even come in for his usual espresso—so I don’t know how it went.”

“I’m sure it went great,” I said. “I’m the one who suggested they’d make a good couple in the first place, remember?”

“I remember. I only wanted to make sure you hadn’t had a change of heart now that…you know….” She shrugged. “He seems to be getting over you and moving on.”

“Sadie, nothing could make me happier. Ted and I are so right for each other. I see it more and more every day, and I believe he does too. I wish you could see it.”

Since I’d first arrived in Tallulah Falls, Sadie had been trying to fix me up with Todd Calloway. Todd owned the Brew Crew, a pub and craft brewery directly across the street from the Seven-Year Stitch. Todd and I went on a few dates, but it never amounted to more than friendship. Sure, Todd was sweet and good-looking, but I never felt the spark of excitement with him that I felt with Ted Nash, head detective for the Tallulah Falls Sheriff’s Department.

I felt Todd had been hurt when I chose Ted over him, but it was probably more from pride than anything else. Like me, Todd realized that though we cared about each other, it was as friends. And while the idea of Todd getting seriously involved with MacKenzies’ Mochas’ mean-spirited waitress Keira made my stomach churn, I was delighted that he and the kind, auburn-haired deputy Audrey Dayton might be compatible.

“You know, I suspect Todd didn’t come by for his usual espresso this morning because he was avoiding Keira,” I said.

“That’s a pretty safe bet. She was livid when she found out he and Audrey had a date. She thought that with you out of the picture, she was all set.” Sadie smiled. “Maybe Blake and I can have you and Ted over for dinner sometime soon.”

“That would mean a lot to both of us,” I said. Especially since you’ve made it apparent that you thought our relationship was a mistake. I didn’t say that last part out loud, of course… only in my head.

As soon as Sadie left, I called Reggie. Reggie was the librarian for Tallulah Falls’ only public library. I could tell by the clipped efficiency of her voice when she answered the phone that I’d called her at a busy time.

“Hi, it’s Marcy,” I said. “I won’t keep you, but I’m calling to ask if you’d be willing to help out my mom with some Bollywood costumes.”

I didn’t need to explain anything further. Reggie knew my mom from the times Mom had visited Tallulah Falls, and all my friends had enjoyed listening to her “war stories.”

“That sounds fantastic,” Reggie said. “I’ll be over to the shop on my lunch break to get all the details.”

* * *

As I’d hoped, Angus spent most of the late morning napping by the window while I attended to customers, opened the box that had been delivered yesterday afternoon, and restocked the pegboards with embroidery hoops and frames. The merchandise area of the shop was separated from the sit-and-stitch square by a black-and-white checkerboard tile floor. I’d worn heels today, and they clicked on the tile as I placed the canvas and monks cloth on the maple shelves, refilled the bins with yarn and embroidery floss, and put the overflow in the storeroom. Normally, that clicking sound combined with our being alone in the store would’ve made Angus come bounding over to jump and nip at me. Today he was too worn out from the earlier game of fetch.

Once my work was caught up—for the moment—I returned to the sit-and-stitch square and felt pleased with myself for a job well done. I glanced up at the clock and saw that it was a quarter until twelve.

I went into my office and made sure there were sodas in my mini-fridge. After Reggie had told me she’d be by around noon, I’d called and asked Ted to bring us a pizza for lunch.

I heard the bells over the shop door jingle, and I hurried out of the office. I was glad to see that Ted had not only brought the cheese pizza I’d asked for, but that he’d also brought Reggie’s husband, Manu.

They were quite a contrast standing there side by side. Ted was six feet, three inches tall, dwarfing Manu, who stood a mere five feet, seven inches. Not that I was one to talk about height. At five feet nothing, Manu dwarfed me.

Ted was muscular and athletic. Manu was muscular, too, but he had a stockier build. And while Manu had deep-set dark brown eyes, Ted’s eyes were as blue as the ocean on a clear summer’s day.

I greeted Ted with a quick kiss. “This is a nice surprise,” I told Manu.

“When you said Reggie was coming over, I thought we should make it a foursome,” Ted said.

“I’m glad you did,” I said.

Angus, who’d loped over when the men first walked in, was busying himself trying to sniff at the pizza box that Ted was holding up out of the dog’s reach.

“You’ll get your share, buddy,” Ted said.

“Especially after Reggie gets here,” Manu added.

“I’ll grab us some paper plates, napkins, and sodas,” I said.

Ted and I usually ate in my office; but since Manu and Reggie were joining us, we’d need to dine in the sit-and-stitch square.

When Reggie arrived, I put the cardboard clock with the plastic hands on the door indicating I’d “be back” in half an hour. I didn’t lock the door, but I hoped any customer who might come by during that time would respect our desire to eat lunch uninterrupted.

As we ate, I explained about Mom’s new project and advised Reggie that Mom had requested her specifically because she did such gorgeous chikankari work. Reggie was sporting some of that white-on-white embroidery today on the fitted cuffs of her cream-colored tunic. Unlike her husband, who favored Western dress such as jeans and plaid shirts, Reggie preferred her traditional Indian attire of flowing tunics with matching pants or saris.

“I’m flattered that your mother thinks I’m good enough to be of help,” Reggie said, lowering her head in modesty and pushing her silver, wire-framed glasses up on her nose.

“Good enough?” I scoffed. “She wants you to give the rest of us—including her crew in San Francisco—a crash course!”

“I’m looking forward to seeing this movie,” Manu said. “Sonam Zakaria was an incredible talent.”

“Yes, she was,” Reggie said. “But she had such extreme highs and lows in both her career and her personal life. Who will be playing her in the movie?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t think to ask Mom when I was talking with her.”

“Will you have to go to San Francisco?” Ted asked, tossing a piece of pizza crust to Angus.

“I should go at least overnight to get a feel for the designs and what Mom will need,” I said. “But most of our actual work will be done here. Reggie, I’d love for you to go with me to San Fran. How about this coming weekend? Maybe we could all go.”

“I’d like that,” Reggie said.

“Great. I’m sure the studio will pay for our flight, and we can stay with Mom. We’ll try to get a flight out right after work tomorrow evening and….” I noticed the guys were looking at each other. And, although I couldn’t read their expressions, I knew Ted well enough to realize that one or both of them would not be going to California. “What?”

“Ted and I can’t go,” Manu said. “Our robbery suspect escaped this morning.”

“Escaped? How?” Please don’t let it be my fault. Please don’t let it be my fault.

“He punched the deputy who was cuffing him, and then he got away,” Ted said. “He apparently ran through one of the shops and out the back where we think there was a car waiting.”

“You believe he had an accomplice?” I asked.

“He would have had to have,” Manu said. “He got away too easily.”

“We’re thinking he must’ve hidden in the trunk or the back floor and that his driver simply merged into the traffic and fled the scene while we were still combing the shops for our suspect,” Ted said.

“Oh, my goodness. That’s terrible.” I placed my hand over Ted’s. “I’ll call Mom back and ask her to get someone else.”

They all spoke at once.

“No, you won’t,” said Ted.

“Over my dead body,” Reggie chimed in.

“That’s not necessary,” Manu said. “We’ll catch this guy…hopefully before the sun sets today.”

“Still, I don’t think it’s appropriate to leave and go to San Francisco,” I said.

“It’s a perfect time to go,” Ted said. “If we don’t catch this guy, Manu and I will be working around the clock to find him. You and Reggie might as well enjoy yourselves.”

I turned to Reggie.

She shrugged. “He’s right. Let’s go. We won’t do them any good by pacing the floors and wringing our hands at home. Trust me—I’ve been there and done that.”

“Besides, somebody has to babysit.” Ted inclined his head toward Angus.

“Our men are too busy for us this weekend, Marcy,” Reggie said with a wink. “We might as well skip town.”

I smiled uncertainly. “I’ll make the arrangements.”

# # #

CROSS STITCH BEFORE DYING will be released on August 6, 2013. If you’d like to pre-order, please do so! Links to retailers are below:

Amazon

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Barnes and Noble

Indiebound