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Chapter One

    "Feldstein, put that cop out of his misery. Stop telling him you have one foot out the door of that town that reminds me of a chocolate bar. Tell him the truth - that you're going to stay there putting on those yarn meetups at that place across the street," Frank said. He took a breath and I heard the rustle of paper, letting me know he was having this phone conversation while he ate one of his usual sub sandwiches. I wasn't sure if it counted as lunch or dinner, but knowing Frank it was probably a snack. It was still afternoon where I was on the edge of the Monterey Peninsula, but early evening in Chicago, where he was.

    "You still there?" he asked and I let out an uh-huh. "And tell the poor guy exactly what feelings you have for him. You know, that you, you know . . ." He let out a groan.

    "Can't say the word, can you?" I teased.

    "Okay, Feldstein, then let's hear you say the word," Frank said, adding a chortle.

    "I don't have to say the word." I tried not to sound defensive. "He probably knows how I feel. It's not the word that counts anyway. It's about actions," I added. I hardly wanted to talk about my personal life with Frank. He was a PI and my ex-boss - though the temp job had only lasted for a few weeks. It was my favorite of all the temp jobs I'd had, and so when I went to Cadbury by the Sea, California, we kept in touch. He had become my go-to when I got in the middle of a murder investigation. This time he had called me.

    "We kind of got off the subject of your call," I said.

    "Right. Yeah, I called to thank you for the box of muffins, but figured I'd make it a two-fer and give you some advice. I've been hearing about that guy and how you didn't want to break his heart when you left. He's a cop and I bet he could take it. That is, if you did actually leave."

    I started to protest and bring up my history of not sticking with professions and stopped myself. I knew that Frank was right. Not that I told him that exactly, I just ended the call.

    Once I'd acknowledged that Frank was right about how I felt about Dane Mangano and that I wasn't really on the verge of leaving, I wanted to do something about it right away. I would be brave and tell him how I felt.

    I hadn't seen him for several days and I assumed it was due to his schedule being all over the place. But I was sure where I could find him now. Dane lived down the street from me and had converted his garage into a workout room with mirrors and mats. He used it for his own workouts and to give karate lessons to local teens to keep them out of trouble. No matter how his schedule varied, Tuesday afternoons were set aside for the karate kids.

    I tried to make it to the kitchen door, but Julius rushed in front of me and blocked me. The black cat looked up at me with a plaintive meow. It had nothing to do with him being sad at my leaving and everything to do with his needing a snack, immediately. I was still new to living with a cat. But one thing I had figured out was that calling him my cat was incorrect. It was more like I was his human.

    "Sorry, buddy, but this time you're going to have to wait," I said as I walked around him. He jumped up on the counter and let out another meow, as if he couldn't believe what I was doing. I left without looking back, afraid his pleading eyes would get to me. I had to do this before I lost my nerve.

    I marched down the street imagining what I would say to Dane. I hoped it would come across better than my attempts at flirting. We both agreed they were laughable. But I worried that me being mushy would come across as clumsy and funny. Maybe the best thing to do was to assume that he would laugh. Then I would laugh too and all would be fine.

    I could hear the kids shouting out karate noises before I opened the door. They all stopped when I walked in.

    I wasn't planning to profess my feelings in front of them and had thought I would quickly pull him aside and then spill my emotions. I was so worked up that I started to say his name and that I wanted to speak to him, only to see that he wasn't there.

    "Where's Dane?" I said, looking at the five teenagers all dressed in white pants and kimono tops tied with multicolored sashes. They all looked at each other and then one of them acted as spokesperson.

    "He's in the house," the gangly boy said.

    I made a move toward the door. "Maybe you should text him," another of the teens said.

    For a moment the idea of texting my feelings seemed more appealing - i.e., easier than saying the words directly. I shook my head. No, I was not going to take the easy way out and propelled myself out the door, walking across the backyard, anxious to find him before I lost my nerve.

    His house was small like mine. The back door was unlocked and I walked into his kitchen, which smelled of simmering spaghetti sauce. Along with teaching them karate, he fed them. His sauce was the best and the smell temporarily distracted me as I imagined eating a plate of noodles smothered in it. I thought I heard voices coming from the living room and went down the short hall that led to the front room.

    And then I stopped in my tracks. Dane was sitting on the couch next to a woman. Not exactly next to, as she had her head on his shoulder and he had his arm around her.

    All I could think as I turned on my heel and fled was thank heavens I had not texted him.

    I went into my house only long enough to give Julius the treat he'd missed, which always took longer than I wanted due to all the unwrapping and rewrapping of the can of stinky cat food. But there was no reason for him to suffer just because I felt like an idiot, even though I had not actually said a word. I grabbed my purse and car keys and drove straight into downtown Cadbury, glad that I had a meeting about the upcoming retreat.

    I did not notice the sky or the weather, but then it was almost always cloudy and cool, so it slipped into the background even when my mind wasn't on something else, like wondering who she was and why they seemed so cozy. Maybe I had simply waited too long and Dane had found somebody who seemed a lot less hesitant than I was. He had been the one to mention living together, but I had held back. I had a lot of excuses, like my parents planned to visit, but maybe the truth was that I had been afraid of commitment. Notice I said had been afraid. I had gone to his place ready to spill it all.

    Clearly, our timing was off. The shock I had felt was already wearing off and it occurred to me that if it was so easy for him to take up with someone else, maybe it was good that I had never told him how I felt. I took a deep breath and let it out as I tried to recover.

    I parked my yellow Mini Cooper in front of Cadbury Yarn, barely remembering to curb my wheels on the sloping street, and rushed up the steps of the pale blue bungalow that had been turned into a yarn shop.

    The days were short at this time of year and it was hard to tell if it was getting dark or the sky was really that leaden color. This was the season when all those cloudy skies actually could drop rain. Because it happened for such a limited time, it was always a surprise. I forced myself to push away all my thoughts about Dane and focus on the matter at hand. That was how I dealt with disappointments and flops. Push thoughts of it out of my mind and move on. The meeting was about the upcoming weekend's retreat. I had gotten a late start on making all the arrangements because the holidays had interfered. But now it was January and the remnants of tinsel hanging on the pine tree outside the post office looked tired. It always amazed me how wonderful all the decorations and lights looked before Christmas and then how desolate they appeared after.

    The interior of the shop seemed extra cheerful and inviting after the gloom outside. The living room of the converted bungalow was the main sales area and there were cubbies of yarn stacked up against every wall. Several revolving displays offered knitting and crochet tools. A rack of books and magazines sat next to a table covered with scarves and sweaters for sale. Crystal Smith was behind the cashier counter working with a customer. She had her usual colorful attire of layered shirts of assorted colors over black jeans. One of her ears had a large silver hoop earring and the other a dangling teardrop. She was right. Who says you have to wear a matched set? I envied how she did her makeup. She wore a lot, with her eyes outlined in dark eyeliner, but it looked good. When I tried to emulate it, I ended up looking like a raccoon. She glanced up as I came past and smiled, then pointed to the former dining room at the back of the small house.

    An oval wooden table dominated the space and had high-backed chairs around it. There was an assortment of knitting needles and crochet hooks in several decorated coffee cans in the middle of the table, ready for any customers who wanted to try out some of the yarn.

    By now I understood why. There was no way to really tell how a particular yarn was going to be to work with or look when it was knitted or crocheted. It was even harder with all the self-striping and variegated colors that were popular.

    I felt my thoughts going back to the image of Dane and that woman. Despite my resolve, I went right back to thinking about how embarrassing it would have been if I had blurted out my feelings and then seen her. I grabbed an errant ball of yarn sitting on the table and a pair of knitting needles. I was not an accomplished enough knitter to be able to think of something else while I knitted, so the image faded as I put all my attention into casting on some stitches and then knitting back across them. There was just a fleeting thought that maybe it was a sign that I should leave Cadbury. There were the offers of my mother for culinary school in Paris or that detective academy in Los Angeles. I shoved the thought away. I had a retreat to prepare for and put on. Then I could think about what I was going to do.

    "What are you making?" Madeleine Delacorte said as she approached the table.

    "Just a swatch to see what the yarn looks like," I said, not wanting to tell her the real reason I was looking for something to distract myself. We both looked at the swatch, which was a tangle of stitches, and I pushed it away and invited her to sit.

    Madeleine and her younger sister Cora were the local royalty in the small California town. The Delacorte family owned all kinds of real estate, including Vista Del Mar, the hotel and conference center where I put on the retreats. It had seemed that the two women were the end of the family line, but it had been uncovered that their late brother had a love child who happened to be Crystal's mother Gwen. It had not exactly just popped up out of nowhere. I had been the one to figure it out and it had stirred things up in the small town for a while.

    I was still an outsider as far as the locals were concerned. How long did you have to live there before that changed? My move to Cadbury had been a last resort when the temp job working for Frank at the detective agency had fallen apart and I was faced with moving back in with my parents. They were both doctors and I was a thirtysomething drifting from career to career. I couldn't take the worried looks and the reminders that I was basically a disappointment. Not married, no children and fleeting careers.

    My father's sister, Joan, another black sheep in the family, had used her earnings as mostly a commercial actress to buy the house in Cadbury and start a new chapter in her life putting on yarn retreats. She had offered me her guest house - well, converted garage. There was not even a moment's pause before I accepted my aunt's offer. My mother called it running away, which it probably was.

    I had expected it to be temporary while I put my life back together. Since one of my many past careers had been creating desserts for a bistro, I had used the experience to get a job as a dessert chef for the Blue Door restaurant, and on the side I baked muffins for the various coffee places in town. All those cloudy skies made coffee a big thing.

    Even when my aunt was killed in a hit-and-run accident and left everything to me, I thought I would just handle the retreat she had already had on the books and sell everything. By then I had made friends and met Dane. I tried to push the thought of him back out of my mind, but it just wouldn't go. If Dane had just been another guy, I might have left it as a fling and then let it go. There was no question there was a lot of chemistry between us. But there was more. I always said that he had character to spare. What else could you say about a guy who had an alcoholic mother, an unknown father and had been the one to take care of his mother and sister. He had put on a front of being a bad boy while he was doing things like helping his sister shop for her first bra. His mother and sister still showed up whenever their lives went south and he took them in without a second thought. All of that could have given him a serious personality, but he was fun and playful - at least with me.

    While his cop duties were mostly telling tourists to slow down and reminding people to pick up after their dogs, he tried to stop trouble before it started with the karate lessons. Thinking of the karate lessons reminded me of the spaghetti he made for them and me. My mouth started to water at the thought. I was an expert at dessert but had little interest in preparing what came before it.

    I looked down at the abandoned swatch and considered unraveling the lopsided stitches.

    "Is anything wrong?" Madeleine asked, bringing me back to the present. I was hardly going to burden her with what had just happened. She was just coming out of her shell after a very sheltered life and I was more conscious of being her support than expecting her to be mine. She accepted my denial easily and turned the subject to the upcoming retreat.

    "I've been thinking," she said. "Since I have been helping with the retreats, I should be listed on the staff."

    It took me a moment to process her request. It was true that she had participated in the last retreat I put on. It had been her idea to make it a mystery weekend and that she would take the part as Miss Maple. She had made a point that part of all the new things she was experiencing included having a job - even if it was pretending to be an imaginary detective. Not only did I like her, but was also indebted to her and her sister for letting me keep the deal on rooms they had forced the manager to give my aunt.

    I appreciated how she had taken me uncovering the new branch of her family. Her sister Cora was still struggling with it, but Madeleine seemed happy to find out she had a niece and was developing a relationship with Crystal.

    "I think it's a great idea," I said. "How about we call you the Director of Hospitality."

    Her face lit up. "That's perfect. I promise to do a good job. I like the idea of being a career woman, even if it is a little late." She had taken a seat and pulled out a crochet hook and was absently making a long chain of stitches. "I think I'll stay at Vista Del Mar during the retreat. You never know when my services might be needed."

    "I'll make sure there is a room for you," I said. I looked at her for some sort of acknowledgment, but it seemed like she was thinking about something else.

    "You know that Milton is coming for the weekend." Her voice sounded all fluttery.

    "Is he coming for the yarn retreat again?" I said, rummaging through the file of papers I had to see if he was on my list. Milton Carruthers, also known by his pen name of Talulah Barnsdale, was a mystery writer who had come to the yarn retreat mystery weekend. He had been smitten with Madeleine and they spent time together. He seemed nice enough, but I was suspicious of his motives. She was a wealthy heiress and he was a writer who might have his eye on her bank account.

    "We've kept in touch," she said with a blush showing in her face. "He was here for a writers' weekend as one of the presenters. He was busy the whole time and we just had a couple of walks together and coffee in the café. He said he was coming to work on his book and to see me."

    My trouble antennae went up. I would have to keep an eye on things.

Knot Dead Again
by Betty Hechtman

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