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Authors: Elizabeth Lynn Casey

Needle and Dread

BOOK: Needle and Dread
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Praise for the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries

“Sweet and charming . . . The bewitching women of the Southern Sewing Circle will win your heart.”

—Monica Ferris,
USA Today
bestselling author

“Filled with fun, folksy characters and southern charm.”

—Maggie Sefton, national bestselling author

“[Mixes] a suspenseful story with a dash of down-home flavor . . . Visiting with the charmingly eccentric folks of Sweet Briar is like taking a trip back home.”

—Fresh Fiction

“I love the setting and the coziness of the town. I've loved getting to know each and every one of the characters . . . and I've loved the murderous predicaments they've all found themselves in. But the camaraderie between the ladies is what makes the story so much fun!”

—Marie's Cozy Corner

“Tori is fun, sassy, smart, and crafty in more ways than one . . . I like feeling the connection to the characters, like they are old friends coming into my home for the night to sew and solve mysteries together.”

—Two Lips Reviews

“This series has its own brand of charm, intrigue, and unique characters.”

—Once Upon a Romance

“An excellent read for crafters and mystery lovers alike. Elizabeth [Lynn] Casey has a knack for threading together great story lines, likable characters, and surprises in every page.”

—The Romance Readers Connection

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Elizabeth Lynn Casey

SEW DEADLY

DEATH THREADS

PINNED FOR MURDER

DEADLY NOTIONS

DANGEROUS ALTERATIONS

REAP WHAT YOU SEW

LET IT SEW

REMNANTS OF MURDER

TAKEN IN

WEDDING DURESS

NEEDLE AND DREAD

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

NEEDLE AND DREAD

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2016 by Penguin Group (USA), LLC.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more information, visit
penguin.com
.

eBook ISBN: 9780698405967

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / April 2016

Cover illustration by Mary Ann Lasher.

Cover design by Judith Lagerman.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

Version_1

For all those readers who have sent me such encouraging notes over the last few years. This one is for
you!

Acknowledgments

When I'm knee-deep into the writing process, I often feel as if I'm in some sort of personal Batcave—just me and my computer. And while that describes a lot of my days, it doesn't describe all of them. Certain people always make their way into the Batcave with me via an encouraging email, a post on my Facebook author page, etc. That said, I need to call out a few specific people who made the writing of this particular book all the more fun for me.

First up: a huge thank-you goes to my dear friend, Joe Richardson. Brainstorming with you, Joe, is always a hoot.

Next, a big thank-you to my friend, Lynn Deardorff, who, once again, answered my SOS about the sewing project for this book.

And, finally, my family . . . for tossing an occasional candy corn in my direction whenever I got really stressed. I love you
all.

Chapter 1

“I reckon, Victoria, if I don't quit pinchin' myself every time I look through this window, I'm gonna be black and blue b'fore long.”

Tori Sinclair glanced over her shoulder at the polyester-clad sixtysomething she'd apparently been too distracted to notice, and smiled. “You must be awfully light on your feet this morning, Margaret Louise.”

“Why, I think that might be the first time anyone's ever said that to me.” The grandmother of eight lifted her ample weight up on tiptoes and directed Tori's attention back to its original starting place. “It don't matter how many times I've stood in this same spot over the past two weeks, I still can't believe my eyes.”

She wanted to argue, to say it all made perfect sense, but the sight of Leona Elkin and Rose Winters—standing side by side behind the sparkly new register—defied
everything Tori had come to know as reality where the two nemeses were concerned.

Sure, Margaret Louise's svelte and stylish twin sister had pulled the proverbial hatchet out of Rose Winters's back long enough to walk together, side by side, down the aisle on Tori's wedding day a month and a half earlier, but that truce wasn't expected to hold beyond the last note of the last song at the reception that followed. The fact that it had not only held but had also actually grown stronger was more than a little unsettling.

“I know it's wrong, but I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop,” Tori murmured just loud enough for her friend to hear. “But it's not.”


You're
waitin'? Why, Victoria, I've been walkin' 'round with my shoulders hiked clear up to my ears just waitin' for the
kaboom
. Only there ain't been no kaboomin' yet.”

Tori stepped back just enough to afford a clear view of the newly hung shingle above their heads, the colorful trio of spools depicted in the bottom right-hand corner drawing her attention first to the turquoise-colored thread that spilled out from the center spool and then up to the shiny needle in the upper left corner. Between the pictures, and in bold, silver-etched black lettering, was the name the normally feuding duo had come up with (sans argument) over tea and pastries:
SEWTASTIC
.

Below that, in slightly thinner writing, was visual confirmation that hell had officially frozen over—at least as far as Sweet Briar, South Carolina, was concerned:
LEONA ELKINS & ROSE WINTERS, PROPRIETORS
.

“My Jake keeps sayin' all that thunder we've been havin' is really just the sound of our daddies and
granddaddies turnin' over in their graves.” Margaret Louise tightened her grip on the platter of finger foods in her hands. “I told him he was bein' silly, but Victoria, it's hard not to wonder. I mean, we
are
talkin' 'bout my twin and Rose. Them two are like Lee and Grant . . . like the Hatfields and McCoys . . . like Paula Deen and The Food Network . . . like—”

Clasping her hand over top of her friend's forearm, Tori did her best to stop laughing long enough to speak. “Okay, okay, I get it. And you're right. So let's enjoy whatever this strange phenomenon is before the bullets start flying, shall we?”

Without so much as a word, Margaret Louise shrugged her broad shoulders beneath her non-jogging jogging suit and jerked her chin toward the freshly painted shop door. “I'm ready if you're ready, Victoria. 'Sides, if I don't put these buttermilk hushpuppies down, I'm gonna start eatin' 'em right out here on the front porch.”

Tori reached around her friend and yanked open the door of SewTastic, a medley of enticing smells rushing onto the porch in greeting. Instinctively, Margaret Louise's nose lifted into the air. “Mmmm . . . pumpkin. Cinnamon. And . . . nutmeg. Who made a pie?”

Leona tucked a strand of her salon-softened gray hair back into its stylish bob and made a face at her sister. “No one made a pie. Those are the scented candles I placed around the shop.”

“We found them last night at Turner's Gifts 'N More,” Rose interjected from her spot beside Leona. “They had a whole section of autumn- and holiday-scented candles.”

“Y-you two went shop-
shopping
together?” Tori stammered.

Tugging her cotton sweater more closely against her frail body, Rose slowly made her way around the counter to hug Tori and then direct Margaret Louise and her platter of hushpuppies to a linen-covered card table in the back corner of the main room. “Of course. We had some last-minute touches to attend to before today's festivities, isn't that right, Leona?”

“A person only has one chance to make a first impression.” Leona followed her sister across the store, waited for her to place the platter of food down on the table, and then proceeded to swap the item's position with one further back. “You were fortunate with Milo in that regard, dear.”

Any question as to whether Tori had just been insulted by Sweet Briar's resident male-magnet was quickly wiped away by Margaret Louise's narrowed eyes. “Twin, you take that back.”

Leona stopped fiddling with the assorted platters and plates and met her sister's gaze over the top of her chic glasses. “I didn't insult Victoria, Margaret Louise. In fact, my statement merely speaks to her ability to land a man like Milo Wentworth even under the direst of circumstances.”

“The
direst of circumstances
?” Tori echoed.

Leona tidied up the already pristinely stacked napkins on the left-hand side of the table and then straightened to her full five-foot-seven, stiletto-enhanced stature. “Yes, dear. You weren't wearing makeup when you met Mr. Wonderful, remember?”

Before Tori could respond, Leona continued, the click clack of her heels as she made her way around the store serving as background clatter to her usual
no-nonsense voice. “The bus should be arriving in a little over thirty minutes, and Debbie still isn't here with the cupcakes and cookies I ordered.”

“The cupcakes and cookies
we
ordered,” Rose corrected as she returned to her post behind the counter. “You were worried about Victoria and your sister not getting here right up until the moment they walked through the door. And before that, you were convinced Charles was going to forget to turn on that ridiculous bunny-cam of yours. I'm quite sure Debbie will—”

“You find something
funny
, dear?” Leona snapped, shifting her focus from Rose to Tori.

Uh-oh . . .

Tori traded glances with Margaret Louise. “I, uh, take it my giggle just now wasn't as silent as I imagined?”

Margaret Louise shook her head.

Shifting her weight from one foot to the other, Tori swallowed. “I—um, well . . . I guess the bunny-cam thing just caught me off guard.” At Leona's quickly rising eyebrow, she continued. “I guess I just expected Paris to be here. With you.”

Like a balloon pierced by a pin, all fight left Leona's artfully nipped and tucked body. “One of today's crafters is allergic to bunnies.”

“And you know this because . . .”

Charles sashayed into the room from the shop's back hallway and air-kissed Tori's left cheek. “Because at my suggestion, Leona included the question on the tour's sign-up sheet. These days, everyone is allergic to something. My next-door neighbor, Gladys? Her great-granddaughter is allergic to
chocolate
of all things. Can
you imagine? And Douglas-John, my palm reader? He is allergic to silk.”


Silk
?” Leona gasped.

Charles pursed his lips. “I
know
. Can you imagine carrying
that
curse?”

Leona tsked away the horror and then rested her hand atop Charles's pencil-thin forearm, batting her mile-long eyelashes at their young friend as she did. “How
is
my precious angel doing? She must be positively distraught without me.”

“When I checked your computer just now, she was sleeping in her box, nestled up with your red satin bathrobe.” Charles lifted Leona's hand to his lips and kissed it reassuringly. “If she needs anything during this soiree, I'll break away and attend to her needs. You have my word on that, gorgeous. In the meantime, I'll go peek at the screen again right now just to be sure.”

“Have I mentioned yet this morning how badly I want you to leave New York for good and come live here with me?” Leona followed her own question with a dismissive flick of her hand. “Then again, this is Sweet Briar. Asking you to leave civilization for the epitome of hillbilly central would be grossly unfair of me. And if there's one thing I'm not, it's selfish.”

Tori glanced at Rose and waited. But thirty seconds later, the comeback that would have undoubtedly followed such a boisterous claim six weeks earlier remained unspoken.

Stunned, Tori gathered the underside of her wrist between her thumb and index finger and pinched.

Nope. I'm awake . . .

Leona strode toward the window only to stop
midway, her brown eyes large with—uncertainty? “Victoria, dear, does everything look okay?”

“Everything is lovely, Leona.”

“You didn't even
look
.” Leona threw her perfectly manicured hands into the air and marched back to the food table. “I asked you if everything looked okay, and you just answered . . . like it doesn't matter. But it does. Very much.”

Taken aback, Tori glanced at Margaret Louise for help but got nothing. “Leona, I—I—”

“Don't you fret, Victoria,” Rose said. “Leona has been like this all morning. I keep telling her it's just nerves and that everything is going to be fine, but it's like talking to a brick wall.”

Leona narrowed her eyes on her elderly business partner. “There's a lot riding on today, Rose.”

Rose wiped at a spot on the counter with her finger and then redirected her attention to a sheet of paper beside the register. Even from her partially obstructed view, Tori could tell it was a to-do list. “There really isn't, Leona. We agreed we would try this inaugural crafting weekend and see how it goes. If it's successful, we'll hire this Miranda Greer to put together another one after the holidays. If it's a bust, we'll see if she has any other ideas we want to try.”

“How many women are you expecting?” Tori asked.

Flipping over her to-do list, Rose pointed to a second list—this one made up of names rather than chores. “Counting Miranda and the bus driver,
seven
. But Miranda is confident that with more notice for future events, we can double, maybe even
triple
that number.”

Margaret Louise wandered back to the table and
pointed at a jar in the center. “That looks like pickled shrimp. I love pickled shrimp!”

“That's for our guests!” Leona smacked her sister's hand away from the jar, turned it a half centimeter to the left, and then turned it back a half centimeter to the right. “There. That's centered now.”

Tori looked from Rose's twitching lips to Margaret Louise's wounded face and then, finally, around the shop. “I love the way you made the sewing box display reflect the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Very classy.”

Slowly, Leona stopped her incessant reorganization efforts and turned to face Tori. “Do you like the harvest-colored ribbons I tucked around the handles of the sewing box?”

She darted her eyes back to the display. Desperate to prove she was paying attention, Tori stepped closer to the display and ran a gentle hand down a nearby pilgrim-themed bolt of fabric. “Absolutely. And this . . . this makes me want to make a table runner for the big day.”

“My intentions, exactly.” Leona beamed with self-adoration just before she crossed to a shelf on the opposite wall. “And
this
? Isn't
this
genius, too, dear?”

She tried not to laugh at Rose's not so subtle eye roll, and instead, made herself focus on the series of familiar-looking items lining two different shelves. “Wait. Isn't that the porch pilgrim you made last year, Rose?”

“It is.”

“And that fabric basket . . . isn't that
yours
, Margaret Louise?”

“Good eyes, Victoria!”

“They're examples of sewing projects customers can
do in time for Thanksgiving,” Leona explained. “And do you see what's next to each one?”

Tori followed Leona's finger to the first in a series of small wooden boxes. Curious, she stepped closer and peered inside.

“Each one holds printed instructions on how to make that particular piece,” Leona gushed. “With a detailed listing of the items needed in order to do so—items we just happen to have in stock, of course.”

There was no denying the obvious. Leona was born to be a businesswoman.

“Wow-ee! If I didn't know any better—which I do—I might actually think my twin up and learned how to sew!”

Leona walked to the center of the room and extended her finger within inches of her sister's nose. “Not one word today about my sewing, Margaret Louise. Not one word, you understand?”

BOOK: Needle and Dread
7.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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