Read Crushed Velvet Online

Authors: Diane Vallere

Crushed Velvet

PRAISE FOR

Suede to Rest

“Diane Vallere has stitched up an engaging new series with an intelligent, resourceful heroine in Polyester Monroe, plus a great supporting cast and a clever plot. Vallere's knowledge of the fashion business adds an extra layer of authenticity.
Suede to Rest
is a strong addition to the cozy mystery genre.”

—Sofie Kelly,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Magical Cats Mysteries

“Toile, taffeta, and trouble! There's a new material girl in town! Poly may have an eye for fashion, but she's also a resourceful and gutsy sleuth. Diane Vallere skillfully blends two mysteries in this smart and engaging tale that will keep you guessing to the very end.”

—Krista Davis,
New York Times
bestselling author of the Domestic Diva Mysteries

“In the Material Witness Mystery series, Diane Vallere weaves a tapestry of finely knit characters, luxurious fabrics, and . . . murder.”

—Janet Bolin, national bestselling author of the Threadville Mysteries

“In
Suede to Rest
, Diane Vallere has fashioned a terrific mystery, rich with detail and texture. Polyester Monroe is a sassy protagonist who will win your hearts with her seamless style and breezy wit. The first in the series promises readers hours of deftly woven whodunit enjoyment.”

—Daryl Wood Gerber, Agatha Award–winning author of the national bestselling Cookbook Nook Mysteries

PRAISE FOR THE MYSTERY NOVELS OF DIANE VALLERE

“A diverting mystery that offers laughs and chills.”

—
Kirkus Reviews

“Fashion is always at the forefront, but never at the cost of excellent writing, humorous dialogue, or a compelling story.”

—
Kings River Life Magazine

“A clever and enjoyable read.”

—
Fresh Fiction

“I find this series addictive . . . Such a talented author.”

—
Night Owl Reviews

“A humorous yet adventurous read of mystery, very much worth considering.”

—
Midwest Book Review

“Diane Vallere takes the reader through this cozy mystery with her signature wit and humor.”

—New York Journal of Books

“Instead of clashing, humor and danger meld perfectly.”

—RT Book Reviews

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Diane Vallere

SUEDE TO REST

CRUSHED VELVET

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

CRUSHED VELVET

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

Copyright © 2015 by Diane Vallere.

Excerpt from
Silk Stalkings
by Diane Vallere copyright © 2015 by Diane Vallere.

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: 978-0-698-13609-0

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / August 2015

Cover illustration by Brandon Dorman.

Cover design by Sarah Oberrender.

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.

Version_1

To Josh Hickman,
who constitutes the fabric of my life.

CONTENTS

Praise for Diane Vallere

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Diane Vallere

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Project

A preview of
Silk Stalkings

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Thank you to the thousands of readers who forgave Polyester Monroe for having a weird name and took the time to read her story in
Suede to Rest
.

Special thanks to Melanie McMichael, who was in the satellite office with me when Vaughn was born; Richard Goodman, who I trust implicitly with my manuscripts; and Kendel Lynn, my creative co-pilot and soul sister.

Thanks to Katherine Pelz for giving Poly a home at Berkley Prime Crime, Janet Robbins for your eagle eye, and Jessica Faust, for making it all happen.

And, of course, the biggest thank-you goes out to my mother, Mary Vallere, for introducing me to fabric stores at an impressionable age.

One

The crash was
louder than I expected.

Two men stood on the top rung of their respective stepladders on either side of the Land of a Thousand Fabrics sign, or rather, where the sign had been ten minutes ago. The man on the right had lost his grip on the
L
in
Land
, and it fell to the sidewalk in front of the store, cracking the concrete. The effects of weather and time, a decade since the store had closed for business but almost half a century since the store had first opened, had rusted the cursive iron letters in the logo. Bird poop and leaves were almost indistinguishable from the decorative font, and one of the metal posts that anchored the massive sign to the storefront had broken sometime in the past week. Since then,
Thousand
had hung in a diagonal slope downward. The men on the ladders were hired to remove the rest of the anchors so the sign could be replaced with my new sign,
Material Girl
, before I opened for business in six days. They'd rescheduled the job twice,
and now I had less than a week before the registers were scheduled to ring.

It was eleven thirty on a Monday morning. The first time I'd scheduled this job had been on a Monday, too, because I knew most people would be at work, and the handful of hair salons on the street would be closed. I'd alerted the businesses on either side of me: Tiki Tom, who sold Polynesian ephemera to my left, and the Garden sisters, Lilly and Violet, who ran an antiques shop called Flowers in the Attic to my right. They'd both agreed to close for the day. The construction crew canceled at the last minute, leaving my neighboring stores out of a day's business. I made it up to each of them with ten yards of a fabric of their choice. You work with what you have.

Two weeks later, an unexpected February downpour kept the crew from showing up for the job, which meant it was today or nothing. I didn't love that a sidewalk of tourists and nosy neighbors had a front-row seat to my sign troubles, but the small town of San Ladrón had codes and zoning regulations, and a job like this had to happen Monday through Friday between the hours of ten and four. If it wasn't today, I wouldn't have a proper sign when I opened on Sunday.

“Polyester Monroe?” said a voice to my left. I turned to see a man in a red plaid shirt, faded jeans, and a yellow construction hat. He held a clipboard under one arm. His phone was Velcroed onto his belt below a generous belly. “Zat you?”

“Yes, I'm Polyester Monroe,” I said. “But call me Poly.”

“Is your legal name Polyester?”

I nodded.

“Then that's what I need you to sign. Here, here, and here.” He pushed the clipboard in front of me and tapped the paper three times with the end of the pen.

I scanned page one of the documents. “I already signed the contract for the sign removal and a few notices from the city. What is this for?”

“Release form for the contractors. If anyone is hurt in the course of the job, you're responsible. If any property is damaged in the course of the job, you're responsible. If any—”

I pushed the clipboard back at him. “I applied for a petition through the city council. I have all the forms I need. They recommended you for the job because you have experience with this sort of thing.”

“Still gotta sign the release,” he said.

“And you still have to finish the job. The store opens on Sunday. I need a sign.”

“Lady, this is San Ladrón, not Times Square. You turn on your lights, you open the front door, and you hang out a shingle. If people want what you're selling, they'll come in and buy it.”

I took the clipboard, signed my full legal name by the
X
s, and wrote the date after my signatures. “You should have had me sign it before you let it crash to the ground,” I said, and pushed the clipboard back at him.

The rest of the construction workers were scattered around, moving large chunks of concrete that had broken loose when the large iron
Land
had hit the sidewalk. My attempt to make the fabric store look new again, to make it more of a shining star than a sore thumb on Bonita Avenue, wasn't exactly going according to plan. Tiki Tom and the Garden sisters were already conspiring against me. I had decided to placate them both with gourmet tea baskets from my friend Genevieve's tea shop, who was heading this way now.

“You look like you could use a pick-me-up,” Genevieve said after handing over two of the three baskets she held.

Genevieve Girard was the owner of the small, French-themed tea shop called Tea Totalers. It was about two blocks east of my fabric store. I'd befriended her a few months ago when I first inherited the store. She and her husband, Phil, had met at the World Tea Expo, and after a typical courtship that involved flowers, candy, and twenty pounds added to
her curvy frame, they married and set up shop in San Ladrón, Phil's hometown. They plunked their savings into the tea store, but a poor economy kept them from making it the joint project they'd hoped. He went back to driving a taxi and occasionally picking up delivery jobs and she ran the store. A nice patchwork résumé, the new reality for the small business owner.

“Genevieve, you have no idea how happy I am to see you.”

She set the picnic basket on a public bench and flipped the wooden handles open. When she lifted the lid, the scent of buttermilk biscuits and mulled cider filled the air. Mugs, saucers, flatware, and napkins were attached to the inside lid of the picnic basket by elastic loops that had been sewn to the red-and-white checkered interior. She removed a mug and saucer, filled the mug with cider, and handed it to me. I took a sip, savoring the rich apple-and-clove flavor.

“This is heavenly,” I said.

“Try the biscuit. It's a new recipe: I added pureed loquats to the batter.”

I took a bite. The flavors of loquats and cranberries complemented each other perfectly. “You're a genius,” I said.

“Can you take out an ad in the
San Ladrón Times
and tell people that? I could use the endorsement.”

“Business is still slow?” I was mildly surprised. “I thought it picked up after you started promoting your proprietary blends of tea.”

“The only person who's responded to those ads is a food distributor who wants me to sell out to the big grocery stores, and that's not what I want for Tea Totalers. I need to get people to the store. Right now I have about five regulars—not that I'm complaining, so don't you even think about not showing up tomorrow!—and a handful of walk-ins a week. It's barely enough to pay the bills, let alone buy the supplies I need.”

Out of the corner of my eye I saw two men standing on
scaffolding that had been suspended from the roof of the fabric store. They looped thick ropes around the iron letters of the parts of the sign that hadn't crashed to the sidewalk and slowly lowered the word
Thousand
to the ground. When I turned to watch what happened next, I saw another group of men move the iron word to the back of their truck, where they'd put
Land
. It was after twelve now, and there was one word left. I'd specifically asked that they take
Fabric
down last in case there were any snafus. Better branding than
of
or
a
. Now they could remove the iron bolts that jutted out from the façade and mount the sign I'd designed during the nights when I was too excited about the prospects of opening the store to sleep.

I did a quick calculation. At the rate the construction crew was working, they'd be at it for hours. Removal of the sign was one thing, but removal of the scaffolding was another.

“Wait here,” I said to Genevieve. I walked over to the foreman.

He held up his hand palm side out. “Hard hat,” he said, and pointed to a yellow helmet resting on the back of the truck.

I tucked the front of my auburn hair, cut in a style made famous by Victoria Beckham a few years ago, behind my ear and set the half-lemon-shaped hat on top of my head. The hat was bigger than my head and almost covered my eyes. I tipped it back so I could see. The foreman waved me forward.

“How long do you think you're going to be?” I asked.

“This is an all-day job.”

“How can that be? The words are down, and that had to be the hardest part.”

“We gotta finish removing the iron. Then we gotta get your new sign in place and run the electrical. Then we gotta test everything. Then—”

“So, what does that mean? Three? Four?”

“At least. We go into overtime at five.”

“Zoning laws say you have to be done by four.”

“Then we're going to need to pick back up tomorrow.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Not. Acceptable. This is a one-day job. You said so when you gave me the quote. You canceled on me twice.”

“Once. Couldn't do much about the rain, lady.”

“You started at ten. You will finish at four. And by finish, I mean finish. Gone. Cleaned up. Out of here.”

“Those wall mounts are pretty rusted through,” he said. He pulled his hat off and rubbed the back of his arm across his forehead.

“Good. That means instead of trying to save them, you can save time by just cutting them off.”

He looked at the picnic basket behind me. “We could work a lot faster if we had food.”

“Don't worry about food. I'll take care of that. But this job? Done by four.”

He scratched his head and pulled his hard hat back on. “Deal.” He turned around and yelled to the workers. “Hey! Pick up the pace! We're on a timetable.”

Genevieve was halfway through her third biscuit when I returned to the bench. “Can you do lunch for”—I twisted around and counted the various colors of flannel—“nine men on short notice? I'll pay menu prices.”

“Poly, I can't let you be my savior. You're putting all of your money into the store.”

“Let me worry about my money. You worry about lunch for nine.”

“Fine. Lunch for nine. Can you drive to the store in half an hour? Phil took the truck to LA to pick up your fabrics.”

“See, you guys are my savior, too.”

When the lease had come due on their Saab, Genevieve had convinced her husband to turn it in and invest in a van they could use for deliveries. She'd had the logo for her tea
shop painted on the side and hoped it would help raise her shop's profile. As it turned out, most delivery orders could be handled by bike and the van spent more time sitting behind the shop than cruising the streets of San Ladrón. Ever pragmatic, Phil still took the occasional moving and delivery jobs in the greater Los Angeles area to justify the price of the vehicle.

When I'd first decided to reopen the fabric store, my parents had helped me sort through the bolts of fabric that had been in the store for decades. My uncle Marius had closed the store ten years ago, but left the interior intact. A surprising amount of fabrics were still in sellable condition. I hoped to one day be able to take the kind of trips that Uncle Marius and Aunt Millie had taken—Thailand for silk, France for lace, Scotland for cashmere—but until I established a cash flow, I had to do what I could on a shoestring budget. I sorted through the old inventory and then contacted many of the dealers in New York and New Jersey, spending hours selecting whimsical cotton prints, Pendleton wools, and a glorious spectrum of silk de chine. I offered to buy any bolts they had with less than five yards if they'd make a deal on the price and a few of them did. A few of them remembered my aunt and uncle and deepened my discount when I told them I was reopening the store. It was a start.

Still, I needed a hook, something to make people come to me. After two weeks of stopping by Tea Totalers every morning for a cup of Genevieve's proprietary blend of tea, I got my idea. A proprietary blend of fabric.

It was no coincidence that I owned a fabric store and my name was Polyester. The store had been in my family for generations and I'd been born inside on a bed of polyester. Growing up, I'd been teased on a regular basis and often wished I'd been born on a less controversial fabric. Was there a person alive who didn't think of the seventies when they heard the word
polyester
? Still, it was what it was. Instead
of fighting my name, I decided to use it for a PR opportunity. I reached out to all of my contacts and finally found a mill willing to weave a custom blend of velvet using ninety percent silk and ten percent polyester.

I had experience working with blended fabrics in my former job at To The Nines, a somewhat sleazy dress shop in downtown Los Angeles, and I knew that ten percent of a synthetic woven into a fabric could change the drape and wearability of the cloth without dramatically altering the appearance. Fabrics that were woven with a synthetic blend resisted wrinkles and held color better than their pure counterparts. My former boss liked to use mostly synthetic fabrics that came cheap (and sometimes defective). Having grown up around the best fabrics in the world when Land of a Thousand Fabrics was in its prime, I'd always wanted to work with top-quality weaves. This was my opportunity.

My custom velvet had arrived at a distributor in Los Angeles late on Friday afternoon. The warehouse was closed for the weekend. Genevieve had mentioned that her husband was going to Los Angeles for supplies for Tea Totalers today and I'd arranged for him to pick up the fabric. It was a win-win.

Even though the store was locked up tighter than a drum, I had a few misgivings over leaving the crew to pick up lunch. The foreman saw me watching them and gave me a thumbs-up. I smiled a thin smile and walked around the back of the store to my yellow VW Bug. Five minutes later I was parked in front of Tea Totalers.

The tea shop was actually a small house that sat away from the street. A narrow sidewalk led to the front door. Small white iron tables and chairs with mismatched, faded cushions were scattered around the front interior. Inside, Genevieve had hung checkered curtains on the windows and tacked a few French posters featuring roosters and chickens on the walls.

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