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Authors: Amanda Lee

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That’s when Ted came into the shop.

“Arrest them!” Clara shouted. “Arrest them both right now!”

“On what grounds?” Ted asked, his lips twitching to suppress a smile.

She plopped down on the chair and wailed, “I
don’t know! I just want to get my rabbit and leave!”

I went over and calmly scooped up Clover. I kissed her soft head, whispered an apology to her, and then handed her over to her terrible owner.

“Thank you.” With that, Clara left.

“Poor Clover,” said Todd.

Chapter Six

he rest of the day had gone well. A few of the merchants who’d been at MacKenzies’ Mochas came over to browse the shop, and they’d all bought something before they left. I felt like it was a show of support after the scene Clara had made at the coffee shop, and I was grateful. I was looking forward to supporting their businesses and getting to know them better at the upcoming festival.

My shipment of black embroidery floss came in, and after refilling my bins, I put the rest of it in the storeroom. The interest in blackwork had seriously depleted my supply, and I’d been afraid I would run out before the shipment came. So that was one crisis averted.

Ted had been working late, so I’d taken Angus home and fed him at five o’clock. I made myself a ham sandwich for dinner, and then Angus and I headed back to the shop for an advanced crewel class.

This class had only five students. They all loved
Angus, and the feeling was mutual. Overall, it was a more laid-back class than the blackwork class. I was able to chat with each of the students, give on-on-one assistance, and work on the butterfly pillow I was making during this class . . . and when I needed a more colorful project than blackwork.

When Angus and I got home after class, Ted pulled into the driveway behind me.

I got out of the Jeep and waited for him.

“Hi,” I said. “This is a nice surprise.”

“I’m glad,” he said, walking toward me. “I didn’t get to spend much time with you today, and I missed you.” He pulled me into his arms and kissed me thoroughly.

Angus protested from inside the Jeep.

“May we continue this inside?” I asked.


I retrieved Angus’s leash from the front seat, opened the back door, and snapped the leash onto his collar. Instead of rushing toward the house, he bounded over to Ted for a hug.

Once inside, Ted and I dropped onto the sofa to continue our make-out session. Soon, a wiry gray face pushed between us.

With a groan, I got up to let the dog out into the backyard to do whatever he needed to do before bedtime. When I returned to the living room, Ted was lying on the sofa grinning up at the ceiling.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“I was thinking about Angus and Clover. It really is neat how they get along.”

I lay down and snuggled against him. “It is. It’s too bad Clara won’t allow them to play together.”

“Aw, maybe she’ll come around,” he said. “Eventually.”

“You know, I’d been so looking forward to this Ren Faire, and now I’m dreading it.”

“Because of Clara?”

I nodded. “And Nellie.” I hadn’t had the opportunity to tell him about the luncheon meeting during our brief afternoon visit, so I explained our placement assignments and the commotion Clara had made about it.

“I can’t imagine Nancy Walters took that too well,” Ted said. “From what I’ve seen of the grande dame, she doesn’t appreciate anyone questioning her decisions without excellent reasons—say, you broke your foot, are on crutches for the next few weeks, and you need to be closer to the door. Not liking someone isn’t going to cut it with her.”

“No. It didn’t. Ms. Walters told Clara that perhaps the two of us and Nellie would find common ground during our time together at the festival,” I said.

“That sounds about right. In fact, Ms. Walters probably heard about the rivalry and put the three of you together on purpose, hoping it would force you into a truce at the very least.”

“I’d be all for that, but I think Clara and Nellie would both die before granting me any concessions whatsoever.” I was ready to move on from this depressing subject. “How did your day go?
Was your meeting with the arson investigator productive?”

“It was,” said Ted. “It’s apparent the fire was set on purpose rather than due to faulty wiring or anything like that. He just doesn’t have enough evidence to prove the business owner is responsible for setting the fire.”

“But he thinks that’s the case?” I asked.

“Yeah, and so do I. I was practically convinced the widow had murdered her husband, but this entire incident places suspicion solely on the partner.”

“What do you think the partner is so desperate to hide that he’d burn his business to the ground to do so?”

Ted shook his head. “I don’t know. But I intend to find out.”

*   *   *

On Thursday morning, Julie came in while I was helping a customer find a beginning needlepoint kit for his granddaughter. Julie was blond, thin, and of average height. She favored sweatshirts and jeans, and she was currently between jobs. I had hired her to watch the Seven-Year Stitch for me while I was manning my booth at the Ren Faire for the next two weeks.

Julie patted Angus and then browsed while I finished up with my customer. When he left, Julie asked me if I’d be taking Angus with me to the festival.

“I’d love to,” I said, “but I found out yesterday that my booth is between Clara’s and Nellie’s, and
I don’t know whether they’d appreciate my bringing him.”

Julie grinned. “Then I’d take him or die!”

I laughed. “You know, I believe I will. It’d be nice to have one ally with me. And if the first day doesn’t go well, I don’t have to take him back.”

“Why wouldn’t it go well?” she asked.

“The main two reasons I can think of are his nose and the food court.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. That could be dicey.” She moved over to a chair in the sit-and-stitch square. “Are you sure you don’t mind Amber coming with me on Saturday?”

Julie’s daughter was a fixture in many of my embroidery classes and was becoming quite an accomplished stitcher.

“Of course I don’t! I think it’ll be great for you to have her here.”

“Well, she does love this place, and she’s dying to help out,” said Julie. “She’ll feel like a kid in a candy store.”

“I hope she won’t be disappointed. It isn’t the most glamorous job in the world.” I smiled. “I do love it, though.”

“Amber thinks you’re the coolest adult in the world. She’ll have a blast here Saturday. By the way, would you like to go ahead and start setting up at the fairgrounds today? If so, I’ll be happy to watch the shop.”

“I didn’t think the vendors were allowed to set up their booths until tomorrow,” I said.

“Technically, they aren’t supposed to, but
somebody got the festival’s okay and now lots of the vendors are setting up early to get a head start on tomorrow.”

“Well, that sounds like a good plan, but I have a class this evening. I’ll just have to suck it up and get there first thing in the morning. Thanks for the offer, though.”

Julie nodded.

There was something in that nod that told me she wasn’t telling me everything.

“Julie, what is it?” I asked.

“It’s just that I overheard Nellie Davis telling her sister at MacKenzies’ Mochas a few minutes ago that they should go ahead and set up today,” she said. “I don’t want them getting the jump on you.”

I smiled. “I appreciate your concern, Julie. But this is a good thing to me. Let them go on and prepare their booths today. Maybe then I’ll have some peace and quiet while I work on mine in the morning.”

“That’s a good way to look at it. You’re handling those two a lot better than I probably would.”

“You’d handle them just fine,” I said. “I’m sure you’ve rolled with more than your fair share of punches.”

“True. But this layoff is one of the worst blows I’ve been dealt yet,” she said. “Thank you for letting me work for you for the next two weeks.”

for helping me out,” I said. “I only wish I could afford to keep you on full-time.”

“You’re doing plenty for me, Marcy. I really do appreciate this opportunity. I won’t let you down.”

“I know.”

“I’d better run. See you in the morning.” After patting Angus good-bye, she left.

So Nellie and Clara were setting up their booths today. Well, that was good in more ways than one. As I’d mentioned to Julie, I could work on my booth before they arrived tomorrow morning. And without seeing my booth as I stocked and decorated it, Clara wouldn’t be able to copy everything I did. I was still dumbfounded that she’d taken the entire design concept from the Seven-Year Stitch and incorporated it into Knitted and Needled. Why on earth would she

I sat down in the sit-and-stitch square to complete the blackwork border on the collar of a poet’s shirt. I had several shirts and blouses ready to sell at the festival now, as well as ruffled collars and cuffs that could be worn with dresses and other Renaissance Faire costumes.

The thought suddenly struck me—what would I do if I was unable to sell them all? The answer came just as quickly—send them to Mom, of course. She’d be able to find homes for Renaissance couture in a heartbeat and a half.

I missed Mom and wondered how things were going on the set in Arizona. I’d taken my phone out of my pocket and was about to call her when the phone rang. It was Ted.

“Is this a tall, dark, handsome stranger?” I asked as I answered the call.

“No. You’re the opposite of all those things,” he said. “You’re short, fair, gorgeous, and familiar. I’m a detective, remember? You can’t fool me.”

I laughed. “You’re in a quirky mood.”

“Loving a quirky gal does that to me sometimes.”

“You’re doing a lot of sweet-talking,” I said. “What’s up?”

“Ah, yes. I forgot that you’re quite the detective yourself, Inch-High. I can’t make it to dinner tonight. We’re shorthanded at the station, so I volunteered to go to the fairgrounds with Officer Moore to oversee some of the festival preparations. He and I need to make sure that everything is up to code, see that no fights break out, that sort of thing.”

“Since I have a class, there’s one fight you won’t have to worry about.” I explained to Ted that Julie had overheard Nellie and Clara planning to set up their booths this evening, while I was waiting until tomorrow morning to do mine.

“Oh, joy. If I see the sisters of light, I’ll be sure and pass along your tender regards.”

I giggled. “Do that, won’t you?”

“If it doesn’t go too late, mayhap I will come to yon window and offer up a sonnet, fair maiden,” he said.

“I’d rather thee come on inside and smother me with thy passionate kisses.”

“Prithee . . . is that a word?
” he asked.

“Yes, I believe it is. I think it means
pray thee
. But thou veered off course, my love. What intendeth thou to say?”

“Only that thy boldness has stirred me and that I shall be there anon,” he said. “Or, well, after work.”

“I’ll look forward to it. . . . Sorry, I can’t think of any Old English to come back with. Oh, I’ve got it—huzzah!”

He laughed. “Right back at you, babe.”

After talking with Ted, I went ahead and called Mom. The film set she was on was a western, and she answered the phone with “Howdy.”

I asked. “That sounds as strange coming from you as
did from Ted.”

“Is he getting into the Ren Faire spirit, then?”

“Not really,” I said. “He just called to tell me he’s going to the fairgrounds this evening to oversee some of the setup to make sure it all goes smoothly.”

“Will you be joining him there?” she asked.

“No. I have a class.”

“You could go afterward,” she said. “I know you said you wouldn’t be setting up until in the morning, but swinging by to see Ted will give you a chance to get a real feel for the festival.”

“Actually, Julie came by the Stitch earlier and told me that some of the merchants had been granted permission to go ahead and set up their booths this evening.”

“Then why don’t you go?”

I explained about Nellie and Clara going tonight and that I didn’t want to be there at the same time.

“That’s even better, then,” said Mom. “You can
see Clara’s booth tonight and then make doubly sure that your own booth is nothing like hers and that it’s better in every way.”

“That’s not a bad idea. And it reminds me of something weird I learned yesterday.” I described Clara’s shop to Mom. “What is
with that, Mom? Why would she copy the design of my shop?”

“Well, darling, you
have a charming boutique . . . and I imagine that heifer has never had an original thought in her entire life.” She huffed. “Imitation runs rampant in my business, so I know how frustrating it can be. But know this: everyone realizes the original is the best.
. These days almost every designer has a wrap dress in his or her collection, but who did it first?”

“Diane von Furstenberg,” I answered.

“Exactly,” she said. “Now, be sure and go to the fairgrounds tonight and get a look at that old biddy’s booth. Then go in tomorrow and blow everyone’s socks off with yours! And be sure and send me a photo.”

Chapter Seven

fter my class was over, I took Mom’s advice, and Angus and I headed to the Tallulah Falls fairgrounds. It wasn’t that far out of town, and it would be fun to surprise Ted. Besides, I could hardly wait to get a look at the medieval village being set up.

The first thing I saw when I pulled into the fairgrounds was a large castle. I knew it was merely a facade, but it appeared so realistic that I could’ve almost been convinced that I was stepping into a Renaissance village.

Angus and I went through one of the gates where ticket holders would enter on Friday afternoon, and we could instantly see the bustling activity as people—both in and out of costume—transformed the fairgrounds into a Scottish village suitable for the two-week-long reenactment of

Over the course of the festival, Faire-goers would be treated to jousts, plays, music, and even fortune-telling by
’s three witches during the celebration of the visit of King Duncan and his
queen. As they shopped, we—the merchants—were to gossip with customers about how Macbeth seemed to have a hungry eye or that we’d heard how Lady Macbeth wished to wear a crown someday. The other “characters” were also to tell the tale that would culminate in the performance of the play on the last day of the festival, which included Duncan’s vanquishing Macbeth.

To perpetuate the superstition about the play being cursed, the Ren Faire hadn’t included
on its flyers. The flyers had referred to it as
The Play About the Scottish King as told by Mr. William Shakespeare
. And, of course, Will himself would be on hand to make sure everyone knew exactly what king he meant. I wondered whether he would also tell Faire-goers
the play was said to be cursed.

Growing up with a mom who had Hollywood connections and lots of actors and directors as friends, I’d heard a lot about
and its superstitions. The play had supposedly been cursed by real witches of Shakespeare’s day because he’d angered them by including actual spells in
the play which must not be named
. And lots of those actors and directors who’d spoken with me about it—namely, during the period in high school when I was studying the play—had stories about some disaster or another that had befallen cast or crew during productions of

I wondered if maybe I should spin around three times and spit just for good measure (one of the ways to dispel the curse), but I didn’t want anyone to think I was crazy. I hoped they’d at least get
to know me a little before calling my sanity into question.

As Angus and I got closer to the “village,” the sights and sounds of the festival became more vivid. Horses wearing blankets that bore a royal crest were being led into a stable by pages. Angus lifted his nose and took in the smells of leather, hay, horse, and who-knew-what-else.

I was keeping an eye out for Ted, but I also didn’t want to miss anything going on around me. I realized I’d forgotten my flyer and, with it, the map that directed me to the various areas.

I stopped an auburn-haired young woman who wore thick leather gloves to her elbows and had a falcon perched on her left wrist. As I spoke, I tightened my grip on Angus’s leash so he couldn’t get close enough to investigate the fierce-looking black-eyed bird. It might be tethered to its handler, but I imagined those talons could still inflict some damage.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Do you know where the merchants’ area is located?”

“Sure.” She jerked her head backward. “It’s that way, about fifty to seventy-five yards, in that redbrick building.”


She huffed, and I tore my attention from the bird to look at her. I wasn’t sure how I’d offended this woman, but it was apparent that I had.

“I appreciate your help,” I said. “I’m one of the merchants, and I forgot my flyer. I’m sorry to have bothered you.”

“It’s not that,” she said. “It’s the way you’re looking at Herodias.”

“Herodias?” I echoed. The only Herodias I’d ever heard of cost John the Baptist his head. Maybe that’s why the bird looked so mean. Maybe it had gotten its name after beheading . . . Bunny the Baptist . . . or Mouse the Methodist . . . Chameleon the Catholic . . . Earthworm the Episcopalian. . . .

“The falcon,” she said. “Her name is Herodias.”

“Oh. I didn’t intend to be rude,” I said. “I’ve just never seen a falcon up close before. She is a little intimidating.” A
? That was an understatement. “She’s beautiful, though. Again, I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry.” The falcon’s handler blew out a breath. “I’ve been feeling defensive of her all afternoon. Many people around here—in particular, an old lady with a bunny rabbit—didn’t seem to like Herodias—and she’s a good girl.” She looked at the bird. “Aren’t you?”

Herodias’s gaze never wavered.

I felt a stab of guilt. I, too, had judged Herodias on the basis of her looks alone . . . and the fact that her namesake was wicked.

“I’m sorry,” I repeated. “Wait. The woman with the rabbit—was her name Clara?”

“Yeah. You know her?”

“I’m afraid so. If it’s any consolation, she doesn’t like Angus or me, either.” I shrugged. “I don’t know why she hates me, but she seems to think Angus will kill the bunny—even though the two of them love playing together.”

“He’s a pretty dog.” She inclined her head. “Will you be bringing him with you to the Faire?”

“I’d intended to, but now that I’m seeing everything, I’m afraid it might be too much for him to handle, especially once the food vendors get cooking.”

“That’s true. Well, either way, good luck,” she said. “And try to steer clear of the dragon lady.”

So Clara hadn’t even opened her booth yet but was already making friends and influencing people, I thought as I led Angus up to the merchants’ area. I had to give her credit, though. I’d have been scared for little Clover, too, if I were Clara. Had that huge bird acted like it was going to fly off its handler’s wrist, I’d have run screaming in the opposite direction myself. I knew it was wrong to judge a creature on the basis of its appearance, but that was one vicious-looking bird.

A juggler tossing bowling pins into the air passed us. I wondered briefly when bowling had been invented. Then I told myself that it didn’t matter and that maybe the guy was just practicing. Who was I to be nitpicky?

I found the merchants’ area and was surprised to see that it was practically deserted, especially given all the activity going on outside the building. Maybe most of the other merchants thought—as I had before Julie’s visit to the Stitch—that we weren’t supposed to set up our booths until the next day. A few of the booths had been decorated, but most were still bare.

I spotted the word
written in
calligraphy on a huge sign in front of one of the booths. That must be Nellie’s . . . which meant mine was the one to the right of hers and Clara’s was the one to the right of mine.

I didn’t see Nellie anywhere, so I went over to check out her booth. She had candles lined up on one side of her table. In the middle were pamphlets detailing the benefits of aromatherapy. And to the other side, she had rows of essential oils in small apothecary bottles. They were charming. I wanted some. They’d be so quaint on a small tray in the bathroom, and then I could add the oils to my bathwater. . . . I wouldn’t give Nellie the satisfaction of buying from her myself, though. She might even refuse to sell to me. Maybe I could get someone else to buy them for me.

Nellie also had small round wooden tubs filled with soaps, massage oils, and incense. And a tall, narrow shelf in one corner contained herbal teas, lip balms, lotions, shower gels, and hand and foot creams. Her booth looked great. I resolved to compliment her on it when I saw her. If she didn’t want to accept the compliment, so be it. I could still be nice.

I stepped over into my booth. It was a complete blank canvas, containing only three fabric-covered dividers and a long white table. I had bought a periwinkle tablecloth that matched my Seven-Year Stitch bags. It would be perfect to drape over the table. The dividers would hold a couple small pegboards on which I could display embroidery hoops, patterns, and the ruffled collars and cuffs I
had made. I had an ornate wooden box in which I planned to arrange a variety of embroidery flosses, with several more skeins in a bin beneath the table. And since blackwork was such a popular Renaissance design, I had many skeins of black and various shades of gray floss to display in a separate box. I would bring a small rolling clothing rack on which to hang the poet’s shirts.

I was excited. I knew exactly how to organize my booth. I only had to gather my materials when I got home this evening and bring them in tomorrow to get everything set up.

I heard some sort of scratching noise in the booth to my right. It was Clara’s booth. That must be where Nellie and Clara were. Still, I hadn’t heard any talking . . . only the scratching.

I peeped furtively around the divider. Clover was in a kennel with a litter box in one corner and a small bed in the other. Angus began pulling me toward the kennel.

“Angus, no!” I hissed, afraid that Clara would again accuse me of trying to feed her bunny to my dog.

He didn’t pay any attention to me, and I was no match for a stubborn hundred-and-fifty-pound dog. We went into Clara’s booth and over to the kennel.

Clover stood on her hind legs to greet Angus.

I looked around Clara’s booth warily. It was nice, too, although not as well done as Nellie’s. There were bins of yarn, knitting and crochet needles, premade scarves. . . .

I frowned. Something was off. Something about this booth just didn’t look right. What was that brown wooden thing sticking up behind Clara’s table?

I snapped Angus’s leash to the kennel, knowing he would refuse to leave Clover to investigate the table with me. I hoped he wouldn’t decide to take off, dragging Clover and the kennel with him, but I seriously doubted he’d do that.

When I walked farther into the booth and around the table, I saw that the wooden thing was the slats of an overturned rocking chair. I started to set the chair upright but noticed there was something lying in front of it.

I gasped. “Clara!”

Her back was to me, but I thought she must be unconscious. She wasn’t moving and was unresponsive.

Maybe that was where Nellie was. Maybe she’d gone to get her sister some help.

What could I do? What
I do? If I moved her, I might hurt her worse. If I didn’t move her, she might smother or something. I couldn’t even see her face.

I called Ted.

“Hey, babe,” he said. “I’m on my way.”

“On your way where?” I asked.

“On my way to your house. Where are you?”

“I’m at the fairgrounds,” I said. “You have to come back. Something has happened to Clara.”


“I don’t know! She’s here in her booth with her
back to me, and she isn’t moving. What should I do?”

“First of all, stay calm,” he said. “Yell her name. Right now.”


“Did she flinch or move at all?”

“No,” I said.

“Can you tell whether she’s breathing?”

I peered closer. “No, I can’t tell. She’s on her side with her back to me, and she’s wearing a big scarf.”

“I’m calling nine-one-one on another line,” he said. “I’ll be right back with you.”

“What do I do in the meantime?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said. “Just stay where you are.”

I waited for what seemed an eternity but was in reality only a few seconds.

“I’m back,” Ted said. “Can you see what might’ve happened? Do you think she fell?”

“I don’t think it was a fall. She’s in a rocking chair which is turned over on its side.” I tilted my head to look again at the chair. “It doesn’t appear to be broken, but then I can only see one side.”

“She might’ve passed out and turned the chair over when she fell, then,” he said. “Do you smell any strange odors? Is there anyone else around?”

“No, and no.”

“Where’s Nellie?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m thinking she might’ve gone to get help.”

“If there’s anyone else in the merchants’ area, call them over to stay with you until I get there.”

I looked out into the building. “Right now I’m the only one here.”

“Sit tight. I’m about three minutes out.”

“Three minutes driving, or three minutes getting here to the merchants’ area?” I asked.

“Three minutes driving—five getting to you. Just sit tight.”

“But shouldn’t I be
something? Should I nudge her? Roll her onto her back? Move the chair?”

“No,” he said. “We don’t know what happened to her, and until someone gets there to assess the situation, you could do more harm than good by moving her. The EMTs are almost as close as I am.”

“All right,” I said. “Should I at least check for a pulse?”

“Please, babe, just wait for me and the paramedics.”

The paramedics must have been closer than Ted thought because they arrived before he got there. They came rushing into the booth with a stretcher, and several people followed them inside to see what was going on.

Angus started barking and pulling on the kennel, so I went and got him.

“It’s all right,” I said, shushing him and trying to get him to calm down.

He could tell I was upset, though, and he stood close to me, alert and wary of the men with the stretcher and the other people who were crowding around the booth trying to see what was going on.

Ted came in, shouted an introduction to the paramedics, and told the people around the booth to back away. He walked over to me, patted Angus’s head, and put an arm around me. Angus visibly relaxed.

“What’s the situation?” Ted asked the EMTs.

“Too early to tell,” one said. He didn’t look up from his task of helping his partner move the chair out from under Clara.

They rolled her over onto her back. The bright green scarf was wound tightly around her neck. The paramedics shared a look before unwrapping the scarf.

One took her pulse and then shook his head.

BOOK: Wicked Stitch
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