Table of Contents
“Readers will want to fire up their glue guns and join the goings-on at Jo’s Craft Corner.”*
Wreath of Deception
“A warm and clever heroine . . . Filled with unexpected twists, peopled with entertaining characters, and sprinkled with touches of humor.”—Maddy Hunter, author of
G’day to Die
“Hughes launches her series with a feisty, likable heroine and a savvy group of craft hounds.”—*
“A clever, crafty plot and a cast of quirky, engaging characters make
Wreath of Deception
a definite winner. A fun,fast-paced read.”—Maggie Sefton, author of
A Killer Stitch
“Mary Ellen Hughes has a designer’s touch when it comes to murder! Her book has characters you’ll really like and crafts you’ll want to make. Get cozy and enjoy this terrific new author.”
—Laura Childs, author of the bestselling Tea Shop Mysteries
“Mary Ellen Hughes stitches together a charming mystery filled with crafty plot twists and a fun cast of characters. Read and enjoy this clever novel.”—Monica Ferris, author of
Sins and Needles
“An intriguing and crafty debut.”—Tim Myers, author of
A Mold for Murder
“A quintessential cozy. The writing is top-notch, the plot well-paced . . . an altogether satisfying story readers will just love.”
“An absorbing whodunit, small-town life, the joys and trials of family and friends, and some useful crafting tips all combine to make this series debut a good read.”
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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. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
STRING OF LIES
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / September 2007
Copyright © 2007 by Mary Ellen Hughes.
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
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eISBN : 978-1-436-24583-8
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.,
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014. The name BERKLEY PRIME CRIME and the BERKLEY PRIME CRIME design are trademarks
belonging to Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
In memory of Mary C. and James J. Hughes
Always loving, ever giving
I am very grateful to the wonderful group at The Bead Shack in Crofton, Maryland, for introducing me to and guiding me through the fascinating world of beading. If any inaccuracies slipped in, it was entirely my fault and not theirs, for they know their craft inside and out. Thanks also to Susan Brown who generously shared her knowledge of the craft with me as well.
Many thanks to my editor, Sandra Harding, and the many hardworking people at Berkley for putting their fantastic skills to work on my behalf. I appreciate too the ongoing, generous support of my agent, Jacky Sach, without whom none of this would have begun.
Thank you, once again, to the members of the Annapolis critique group: Janet Benrey, Debbi Mack, Ray Flynt, Trish Marshall, Sherriel Mattingly, Marcia Talley, and Lynda Taylor, whose “tough love” always pushed me to do my best. I’m grateful as well to Stephen Hughes for his valuable automotive input, and to Suzanne Baker for her own very helpful knowledge of crafts and her unflagging support.
Last—but never least—my husband, Terry, who patiently played the part of my sounding board and who so often kept me from running off into a ditch: I couldn’t have done it without you.
Jo should have been tipped off when things began going much too well—always a danger sign in her life, but one she still somehow managed to ignore. She couldn’t, however, ignore the huge “Closing Soon!” poster pasted in the window of Fantastic Florals by Frannie, just down the block from Jo’s Craft Corner. Jo was on her way to pick up an order of sandwiches at the Abbot’s Kitchen for Carrie and herself when she stopped dead in front of Frannie’s shop, staring in disbelief at the sign.
Closing? But Frannie’s place was always bursting with customers. Jo pulled open Frannie’s door and called out without preamble, “What’s going on, Frannie?”
Frannie, short and plump, and a regular dynamo of creativity with fresh flowers, looked down glumly from the ladder where she balanced on the third rung, holding a Teleflora poster that had previously hung on her wall. “I’m closing shop,” she answered.
“Why? I thought your business was going great.”
Frannie stepped carefully down the ladder, the top of her head gradually sinking below Jo’s until it ended about even with Jo’s shoulder. She looked up at Jo, her expression both angry and resigned, and said, “We’re being kicked out.”
“But don’t you have a lease?”
Frannie shook her head. “I was just about to renew it when I found out my landlord isn’t my landlord anymore.”
“My landlord sold the building. He’s not my landlord anymore.”
“He can do that?”
“Yup.” Frannie set down her poster and took hold of her ladder, sliding it sideways a few inches.
Jo automatically grabbed one leg to help. “But what about the new owner? Can’t you rent from them? You’ve obviously been a great tenant.”
Frannie looked at Jo with an expression of defeat on her face. Jo had never seen this feisty florist, a woman she had once overheard threatening a supplier with throat-constricting consequences if he didn’t get an order of wedding flowers to her pronto, look so down.
“Parker Holt doesn’t want tenants. Or this building. He wants the property, and all the other properties on this block, so he can tear them down and put up something brand-new and fancy. Mine’s the first, or at least the first we know of. Who knows how many other properties he’s gobbling up on the sly? Have you talked with
landlord lately, Jo?”
Jo felt her insides quiver. This conversation had taken a frightening turn. “Max? No, no I haven’t.”
“Well, I’d strongly suggest you do. Now, excuse me, dear. I’ve got some more dismantling to do.”
Frannie reascended her ladder, and Jo numbly left the floral shop, looking dazedly about for signs of other businesses crumbling as she continued on her way to the sandwich shop. How could this be? She thought this neighborhood was solid as a rock, the perfect spot to set up a new business.
“Parker Holt made us a good offer,” Ruthie Conway, co-owner with her husband Bert of the Abbot’s Kitchen, admitted. She reached out one age-spotted hand over the counter to pass Jo her bagged order of turkey and bacon roll-up and tuna salad on wheat. “It’s tempting, you’d better believe it. Bert and me, we’re not getting any younger, you know.”
“So you own your building?” Jo asked.
“Sure do. We bought it over thirty-five years ago, when nobody else wanted it, the condition it was in. But we fixed it up, little by little. It’d be hard to walk away from something we put so much work into. But with Bert’s back acting up more, we maybe should be thinking of retiring. I don’t know. Hate to do it, you know? We’d really miss our customers. They’re like family, most of them.”
Jo nodded. Ruthie had made her feel welcome in the neighborhood from her very first day last September. And their sandwiches, with Bert’s special sauces, were more than worth coming out for on cold January days like today. What would Jo do for lunch if Ruthie and Bert sold out? She winced as the obvious occurred to her. What if she had no business to take a lunch break from?
Jo hurried back to the Craft Corner, clutching her sandwich bag closely to her chest as the cold wind whirled about her. “Carrie,” she cried as she yanked open her shop door, sending the Christmas wreath that still hung there flying out perpendicularly. Time to replace that with something Valentiney, she thought as she rushed past.
“Carrie, who’s Parker Holt and where’s Max McGee’s Florida number?”
Carrie looked up from the diamond-shaped yarn bins she was filling with newly arrived skeins. “I suppose the number’s in your file somewhere. And why do you care about Parker Holt? Did he grab the last turkey-bacon roll-up at Ruthie’s?”
“He might be grabbing more than that.” Jo peeled off her jacket on the way to her office cubicle at the back of the shop. She dropped the sandwich bag on her desk and her jacket on the chair, then pulled open a file drawer, rifling through it for her landlord’s phone number.
“What’s going on?” Carrie asked, unwittingly echoing Jo’s very words to Frannie as she followed Jo to the back, still clutching a skein of heather blue wool.